Why do millions fight to find a cat lost by baggage handlers in USA yet do nothing for kids in Africa?
I’M very curious about the issue of Jack the cat, who went missing before a flight from New York to California in August, sparking a severe social network backlash against American Airlines.
The cat had been checked in as cargo but at some point he got out, and owner Karen Pascoe was told that the cat had been lost in the baggage claim area. At first the airline was rather nonchalant about poor old Jack. But when Karen’s sister posted a plea on Facebook, the story went viral.
The airline subsequently launched a frantic hunt and pulled out all stops in a bid to avoid a massive PR disaster as thousands upon thousands of people joined the Facebook site in support and protest, and became Jack followers on Twitter. There were reports of a cat detective being sent by the airline to find the feline, and of people voluntarily going to JFK to search.
In these days of armchair activism, where one person can literally bring down a company, AA spared no expense in its renewed efforts, flying Karen Pascoe to New York and attending to her every whim as she and other stalwarts searched for the cat. There were daily briefings to review progress and generate ideas for locating Jack, with representatives from the Port Authority of New York in attendance. Extensive CCTV footage was viewed.
Being an animal lover, it’s of no surprise to me that I was horrified that the airline had lost Jack. But I keep being haunted by the question: Why did I react this way when stories of what’s going on in Africa stir feelings, but not the same outrage? Why will people act to bring down an airline over a lost cat and yet won’t bring down a government or two over children crawling through the sand in search of food and water?
Perhaps it’s an empathy issue. Africa is too far away from our own day-to-day reality, whereas anyone can empathise with the loss of a pet. Or maybe we can
be stirred by the plight of one child
with a name and a story, but the idea of starving millions is so beyond our comprehension, we shut down? Perhaps the empathic mind only has the capacity for compassion if it can comprehend the scale of the tragedy?
At any rate, the Jack story has reminded me that human catastrophes deserve the same outrage and action — even if it’s as simple as donating $50 to a worthy charity. I just sent money to this one: www.savethechildren.org.au.
I am wondering whether other people have an inability to connect with humanitarian crises yet would rally passionately to save a condemned pet or a beautiful old tree in their street that was about to be hacked down.
Share your ideas and thoughts about this story on my blog.
I’ve only just discovered your blog Ruth so I’m doing some catch up on articles that catch in my throat. And I do mean ‘catch in my throat’. It does make me cry when I hear about some of the things people in Africa or any under-privileged country suffers. Eating food covered in nuclear waste, having to watch children starve to death or die of Aids. It’s all tragic. But I think the reason so many people just don’t DO anything is for a number of reasons.
There are so many different charities for so many different things -give us a dollar a day for little Sanhibe- or -Look at this dying African boy … Give us money so we can build him a well-. It becomes tiring. And in our society of scam artists, whether it be Indians calling at dinner time claiming to be calling about your Windows Computer, or a Nigerian Woman wanting to leave you her millions. there comes some paranoia, of, are they scamming me? Why can’t I SEE where my money is going? Why should I give you my details?
Because, and we’ve all suffered it. As soon as you give your details ot a charity. You get calls. Constantly, they come to your door, interrupt your dinner, try and swindle more money out of you.
I know, while I’m not dying of aids or starving to death. In fact I’m far far from starving to death. I don’t have a dollar to spend. If I gave a dollar to any kind of charity. I wouldn’t make rent and I’d be homeless within a week. I’m positive I’m not the only person in this predicament.
It IS sad what goes on, and yes we DO get outraged by things like, missing cats at air lines. I personally think that’s because we CAN be outraged. Getting on Facebook doesn’t cost anything.
But being outraged by something happening so far away, with no means to physically BE there in that space. Not to go help BUILD that well, or nurse that baby to health. It just becomes irrelevant news that we’re being asked by strangers to funnel what little money we have left into.
having just spent 5 weeks in 5 African Countries and heard the cries of those who, just like us, simply want to live , love, have a job, a home, an education for their children, affordable healthcare and hope for the future, i am always sad when we pass by humanitarian issues because they are beyond our comprehension. when you actually meet Africans or any other nationality that is not Australian then you realize that they have the same aspirations as us without always having the same opportunities as us. we are a blessed country and it will be great to see more hand-ups rather than handouts, shred with those whose political, climatic and low income, prevent their aspirations from being realized.
Ruth, I am pleased you raised the issue. A little while ago, I was also feeling completely overwhelmed with the seemingly helplessness of the situation and the extent of human suffering. I read a truly insightful and easily accessible book about charity by Peter Stringer, called “The Life you Can Save”. Well, it presented in simple terms the very compelling argument to be engaged in the global community and commit to giving to charity. Since reading that book, I have felt immense relief and satisfaction in knowing that I am doing my part and I would wholly recommend to others to become more knowledgeable on the subject.
Again, thanks for bring this subject to the attention of your readers. I firmly believe that charity is something that should be discussed more and without the cynicism it so typically receives.
Like Meaghan, I choose my causes. I make regular donations to four charities, which cover environmental, human and animal causes. My chosen priority is animals for several reasons: Animals, wild and domestic, give me a reason to live, which humans never have; many more people donate to human-focussed charities than animal-focussed ones; and humans are more able (note, I’m not saying fully able) to handle bad things thrown at them than animals are.
It’s a good thing that we all have different priorities, I think – imagine a world where only children were helped, or only tigers, or only forests. We need every part of the world, its people, its flora, its fauna, its air and water and soils, to survive for us to be a healthy world. We can’t each support everything. But between us all we can.
Sorry folks my SPAM is playing up again — just found you all, thank you for great comments
Thank you so much. I am very frustrated… what can I say. SO glad you have found me here and I will continue to post for my cherished readers who have lost me in Lost Property
Ruth, you have raised a question that very few like to address. It certainly shows how skewed the world is when the life and welfare of a cat is given such attention, yet how many other atrocities are occurring around the world and within our own country without eyelids being battered. What is truly shocking and surely in need of more public outcry is the murder of unborn babies occurring on a DAILY basis in our regional towns and cities?! Sadly, they are the most innocent and vulnerable victims of our warped society – where’s the compassion for them?
I read Ruth’s article in The Weekend Australian. Why do people act to bring down an airline over a lost cat? Because they can!
Airlines have the ability to hold masses of people in a confined space and invade their personal privacy all in the name of secure transportation.
Why dont we act when it comes to humanitarian issues in Africa? Because we dont have any control over the situation. Our belief is that corruption abounds to the extent that money sent is likely to end up in the wrong hands.
I so miss your column in the Weekend Magazine. It’s a pain to search for it in the Properties section next to cooking and gardening. Isn’t this a huge step backward for women – back to the domestic section! My husband and I both love your columns and talk about them for days. I am outraged by this move as well as by what happened to Jack the Cat.
I also thought about the Holocaust and how impossible it is the feel (comprehend) the horror as a totality. We need the individual stories, i.e. Anne Frank, Elie Weisel, etc. They are the ones that touch our souls.
Ruth, you are gem and I am happy I found this page so if I miss a column I can read it on line here. Thank you
I agree with the last few comments to a certain extent. I do think that people (even the best of people) really only want to see something for their imput…give $50.00 to the starving children of Africa and people don’t see a difference and therefore dont get anything back for their $50.00 – the next day they still read about the starving people in Africa. However give to a cause like Jack and its a thread people talk about – see “what’s happened to Jack” and everything that happens in the Jack saga will be reported back. Those who become involved are satisfied that they helped this good cause. Somehow human beings do manage to block out the really awful things in the world because to do something really meaningful would mean compromising their own comfort. But to make up for it they go for causes like Jack – just to show that they really are compassionate! I think it really is a case of “Ï’m all right Jack”
I think that on some level everyone is aware that there are already too many people in the world. The population is already unsustainable. Of course, no one wants to reduce the population from their own neighbourhood, so it is convenient that the numbers drop substantially in poorer, distant countries and we can all pretend that thats a bad thing. Because it doesnt directly affect us.
Re your comment “it’s an empathy issue”, please read http://www.jojomalawi.com this, is, extraordinary, awesome and truly heartwarming. Jo jo is I think, exactly what you are talking about. I’d be very keen to read your thoughts. NB you may need a box of tissues nearby. Warm regards Thea
“None of us are flawed for choosing what we feel passionately to make a difference”, Meaghan? But, don’t you think people can use their brains and prioritize their compassions? It seems perverse to be worried about cat when, as Ruth suggests, so many people live in misery. I agree with Ruth and admire her courage in holding the mirror up to us – showing us hypocrisies we may not want to acknowledge.
About 20 years ago I remember a celebrated child abuse case in Melbourne – a 2 year old was beaten to death; neighbours heard him hitting the wall in the flat and did nothing, meanwhile everyone rushed to the beach, at the same time, when a pod of whales was washed up. I never stopped throwing up whenever I see this kind of decadent, one-sided behaviour.
Well spoke! And very true.
Yes I fear you are right. I do get overwhelmed with a sense of powerless when I look at global affairs, and yes if I can help an old person take a can of peas down from a supermarket shelf or save a bird I just feel grateful that I can be of service in some small way.
Let me know what you think after you’ve read my piece
Given your name is Lovea Laugh I presume this is a joke?
Well I have to disagree with the thread here. I think we choose our causes. Mine is animals. Yours might be refugees, or children in Africa. None of us are flawed for choosing what we feel passionately to make a difference. As long as we make a difference to our given cause that is all that counts.
Ruth I think people just need to see things presented to them in ways that they can understand. One death is often more poignant than one million. i think its a survival mechanism where the brain shuts down when there is nothing the human being feels he or she can do. How can we save a nation? I know Nelson Mandela and other heros have changed the world but things have gone so far beyond our control, we just go silent and help find a cat.
Being a cat lover myself I am shocked and horrified but what happened to the poor darling. Can you imagine how terrified he is or how distressed his owner is? Maybe that’s the point Stu. Any suffering when it is brought to our attention moves us. Its just that we don’t get to see personal stories from places like Africa enough because the media is now blitzed by celebrity and infotainment. Ruth, stop pondering and get over to Africa and do a story!
Even the letters here are daft. Ruth is trying to come to terms with deeper philosophical and psychological issues and people are writing to ask about Jack??? Give me a break.
Hi Ruth I actually saw this story myself in the paper and I wondered myself what had happened to Jack. Do you know. The Facebook site seems filled with misleading information.
Yes Ruth a very intelligent question. I am going on line at midnight to read your column on The Australian on-line. It horrifies me that we need saccharine coating in order to feel compassion.
This is the most gorgeous cat. If you Google him on line you will see what all the fuss is about.