Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Not so soon

Rabbi Michael Lerner writes in Tikkun that every one, including the peace-lovers and passionate democrats, have failed to create a concerted movement to stall the killings in Iraq. Peace demonstrations on war anniversaries have become mere rituals of negligible resistance. He appeals the public to contribute generously to take the issue to the media and propagate the peace-messages through it. And that too these ads are to be painted with spellbinding statistics.

Paul Slovic, a psychology professor at the University of Oregon, may not be convinced. He writes about a research study that analyzed the response to aid-ads that featured a 7-year child. When statistical summary of the needed aid were printed alongside the child’s grim picture, people were not really forthcoming in their compassion. Numbers seem to interfere in their responses.

I was once dreaded to know that in the past 2 years, over 100 Iraqis were killed every day. How moved I was is something no psychologist can ever get to by analyzing the spikes in my limbic system or asking me to effectively use my frontal cortex to answer a long list of confounding questions?

Compassion or its fatigue is not some mathematical aggregate that can be measured and determined.

But, the overall ambition of Slovic is appreciable. He wants us not to succumb to this deficiency in becoming less compassionate if “deaths number hundreds and thousands”. Not to simply accept human failure as inevitable. But, overcome it to act sensibly.

Cultures may determine our compassion. But, “to study only how we happen to think in a particular culture, at a particular time in history, is to fail to do justice to the full range of possibilities,” warns Jonathan Baron, a psychology professor at University of Pennsylvania.

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