Everything’s a Circle

Social psychologist Dr. Paul Slovic has conducted experiments to determine how and when people feel compassion. I’ll quote directly from Genocide Watch:

“In one experiment, psychologists asked ordinary Americans to contribute five dollars to feed Rokia, a starving seven year old girl in Mali.  About half would donate the five dollars.  The same percentage would donate to save Moussa, a little boy from Mali.

But when photos of both Rokia and Moussa were shown, the percent who would donate dropped to thirty percent.  And when the photo of Rokia was shown representing 21 million hungry Africans who could be fed by a group of trusted relief organizations, the percentage who would donate dropped to less than ten percent.

Professor Slovic calls this phenomenon ‘psychic numbing.’  He believes human beings are usually unable to feel compassion for large numbers of people.  The more victims, the less compassion.”


In a recent interview, George Clooney stated that for years he has tried to appeal to people’s hearts regarding the ongoing genocide in Darfur, but it hasn’t worked. He’s given up. So now he is going to appeal to various countries’ economic interests in the region, in hopes of getting these countries to intervene.

How could a man like George Clooney not get people interested? I assumed it was because there is just Too Much Shit going on in the world—we simply can’t care about it all. Now I’m wondering if maybe, as the study above suggests, we won’t care. Not until we hear a specific story (the “hook”), or until we can relate (there’s always the question of possible underlying racism), or until the horror is so beyond our realm of thinking that we can’t help but pay attention–e.g., The Holocaust.


A few weeks ago, I read an article about a Holocaust survivor who, every year, tours schools speaking about his ordeal. A particular quote struck me:

“We have to keep it alive so it doesn’t happen again,” a teacher at one of the schools said.

I hear this a lot. What do we mean when we say “it”? Six million specifically? Does the genocide have to be as efficient as the Nazi system—do the victims need to dig their own graves? Do engineers need to be involved, figuring the quickest way to exterminate millions of people? Does it have to be unique as well as horrific?

Because, in reality, genocide is occuring. Right now. Today. In various places around the world. And it has been occurring in every decade since World War II.

Children in OUR world are being forced to kill their own parents. They are being kidnapped, drugged, and turned into soldiers. Seven year olds. Ten year olds. Women and girls are being raped tonight, now, by men who burned their homes and killed their families. Millions have been, are being, murdered and displaced.

There’s a quote: Everything’s a circle. Nothing’s ever new.

Is that true?

19 thoughts on “Everything’s a Circle

  1. I like blogs that make you think and yours certainly did. I think the circle goes round and round and round and……….

    • Sort of depressing to think about, isn’t it? When I heard that–“Nothing’s ever new”–I thought, Ugh, yes. But, also–no. Things seem to change in one place, then pop up in another…

    • Agreed. But there is the threat of sensory overload. I wonder if that’s where we are. Sometimes I force myself to read sad articles because I feel it’s the least I can do. But we can’t each take on the world. I think we have to choose our battles and go at it.

    • I’ve had the same thoughts–everything is so cyclical, why not human nature and human history? I would like to think we learn from the past…I’m just not sure it’s evident. Some do, some don’t, and it unfortunately just evens out to perpetuate the circle. Ugh, I’m depressing myself.

  2. This is a sad, depressing reality. I think most of us feel helpless…powerless to effect real change. How can we, who may as well live on a different planet not just a different part of the world, make these atrocious situations stop? Of course no one wants to see children turned into soldiers and no one wants to support the rape of girls and women…but, what can we do? We can donate yes, but then we hear stories of corruption of agencies and we become cynical about where our money is actually going. A sad state all around…thanks for the great (sad) post.

    • Thank you for reading. It’s a good question–what can we do–and I think the answer is mostly political. It sounds trite, but really, change happens when enough people pester their representatives and push them to do something. I worked in a state senator’s office and yes, saw some things that contribute to cynicism, but I was most struck by how accessible the politicians are and how most of them really want to do something good.

  3. That’s a great comment you have there. I think a lot of people don’t know that, that politicians are accessible. I think in a world where so much is so horrible and I personally feel so tiny and helpless, it’s hard to figure out what kind of impact you can have, what cause you want to fight for (because there are so many), and also just where to begin. These issues are huge. When you see the big picture, it is overwhelming. I think that could be a turnoff to some, not knowing how they could possibly help such a huge problem, even if George Clooney is involved. Also, some people put their time, money, and efforts elsewhere and they can’t be blamed for that either.

    What a great, thought-provoking post.

    • Thank you. They are accessible, which is a great thing. But it can be overwhelming, even just the thought of calling a rep. A few years ago, after taking time to look at various organizations, I made a short list of 4 or 5 we donate to every year. I sign their action alerts–really, sending thousands of signatures to reps does actually make an impact. I call my reps every once in a while, and I’ve gone to campaign events. But I wish I lived nearer our state capital in Illinois–in MN, the capital is one of the Twin Cities, so it was easy. Probably the best thing is to pick the one or two things you really, really care about, and focus there. Otherwise, we’re spread too thin.
      By the way, for anyone who cares, HSUS is one of the more organized and impactful orgs I’ve seen.

  4. This is very thought provoking. I think people do get overloaded with all of the sadness in the world, and our inability to fix it all. Sometimes, when we break it down to a personal level we are more compelled to help-maybe because we can see something of ourselves in the “others.”

    Stopping by from Tina’s blog mingle:)

    • I think you’re right. Just like anything, once we break something down into pieces, it seems much more manageable–and worthwhile. So, even though people in the study knew that their money would help, I can see where it might not have seemed like a good strategy, like just throwing money into an abyss.
      Thanks for coming by!

  5. It is so hard when everything feels so huge and out-of-control. Then we feel like our little donations don’t even make a difference. When we meet or know of one small story, our hearts seem to open more. This is a great post.

  6. Pingback: Meet: Wolf hunts « True STORIES.

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