It’s been a week since the sad and surprising events surrounding the Costa Concordia. At least 11 people died in the tragic accident, with that number looking as though it could climb to over 30, as hopes fade for the survival of the remaining, unaccounted-for passengers.
In the week since the ship ran aground, its story has hovered at or near the top of the news headlines. Eventually it will pass into history, overtaken by other events: not, of course, for those unexpectedly bereaved, for whom the headlines will fade, but the loss will never be forgotten, or those otherwise directly impacted by what happened.
But for seven days, the story has been all but inescapable.
Compare it with the story of the Kenyan ferry that capsized at the start of the month, with the loss of over 20 people: how many of us even knew about it, never mind remembered it? Or the almost 200 deaths that resulted from the capsizing of a ship off the East African coast in September? Who remembered that? How many days did these stories feature in our headlines?
Of course it is ‘one of those things’ that we are more interested in events that are closer to home or are more likely to affect us personally. Even though our TV and computer screens allow us to be eyewitnesses of tragedies or their aftermath in faraway places, it’s different when it’s somewhere familiar or when it’s someone we know (or think we know, in the case of a celebrity).
Perhaps too, we are less surprised when things go wrong in faraway places that don’t enjoy the same technological advantages as we do, while meantime we expect that somehow we will be safe. No one expects a cruise liner to sink: surely that went out with the Titanic 100 years ago?
Besides which, there are now 7 billion of us on the planet. None of us can enter fully into the pain and tragedy of every suffering member of that vast family of humanity.
I’ve recently been reading Gary Haugen‘s powerful book, Good News about Injustice. In a chapter on the compassion of God he talks about how it is quite understandable that our capacity for compassion diminishes the further out we go in the circles of our relationships. How can someone be expected to feel the same compassion for someone they hardly know as they do for someone close?
However, while he acknowledges this is quite natural and quite human, he argues that ‘it’s not particularly godly.’ Then this:
The extent to which our compassion extends beyond our immediate circle is the extent to which we are loving more like God and less like our carnal selves.
It’s a high standard, and one which we will never perfectly attain to, but that, according to Gary Haugen, is ‘the ideal toward which we should grow.’