Far Away Deaths
(Walking home after another day of deaths.)
In a job I did for some years, news featured heavily – and news always features bad news, and bad news always includes deaths. The deaths of others; the death of people far away. Deaths of people I’d never have known. Deaths of people I have no connection with. But you can be sure they’ll have been the deaths of people who loved and were loved.
There’s a quote rightly or wrongly attributed to Stalin – ‘one death is a tragedy, a million deaths a statistic’. And that viewpoint is a very useful way to think, for a dictator or anyone else in any position of power – in democracies too. And not just politicians. It’s the fact that it’s impersonal that’s the key.
I suspect that, whoever you are, whatever your responsibilities, it’s taking an impersonal view of what’s going on in the world – near or far away – that allows us all to function. We would all be very, very upset and depressed if we took every death to heart.
Which leaves the problem: how do you walk home from a day dealing with the deaths of others, however impersonally you’ve approached it? Because you’d be someone with a very well-guarded world view if nothing worked its way into your feelings.
Back then I found some peace by remembering that, for all the sadness and horrors of the world, all around me people were by-and-large getting by OK. For all the troubles of the world, big and small, close to home or miles and miles away, the majority of people get on with each other. The bad people stand out in our minds, as do all the bad deeds and bad events. But the bad things don’t represent everything and everyone one – far, far from it.
And I have returned to that view point ever since, whenever the world feels overwhelmingly grim.