By Kathryn Jump
Sometimes facts can ring so true they’re almost physically painful.
I am currently reading the book “Half the Sky: turning oppression into opportunity for women worldwide” by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, a husband and wife journalist team who have spent years travelling the world to collect the stories and statistics for this book. They detailed the horrors of human trafficking, maternal mortality, rampant cultural rape, female infanticide – hot topics in current humanitarian efforts. I began to see the faces behind the terms as I read the stories of countless women who have experienced these things. The book was almost too much to take in at points, but it seemed shameful that I would have a weak stomach reading TRUE stories of women who LIVED through these atrocities every day.
One page impacted me specifically, concerning the numbing effects that statistics have on people’s propensity to respond.
“A growing collection of psychological studies show that statistics have a dulling effect, while it is individual stories that move people to act. In one experiment, research subjects were divided into several groups, and each person was asked to donate $5 to alleviate hunger abroad. One group was told the money would go to Rokia, a seven-year-old girl in Mali. Another group was told that the money would go to address malnutrition among 21 million Africans. The third group was told that the donations would go to Rokia, as in the first group, but this time her own hunger was presented as part of a background tapestry of global hunger, with some statistics thrown in. People were much more willing to donate to Rokia than to 21 million hungry people, and even a mention of the larger problem made people less inclined to help her.”
This is me. I do this. I let statistics roll through my brain and crush my empathy. I can conveniently ignore the heart and soul and life of each number.
It reminds me of when the picture of little Aylan, the three-year-old Syrian refugee dead on a beach in Turkey, instantly brought a world-wide flood of outrage…to a situation that has been going on for years. I, myself, learned more about the Syrian refugee crisis the day I saw that photograph than in all the months before.
We need logic and reason. Without them we would, eventually, be driven mad by the unchecked flood of emotion influencing our actions. We can’t exist on empathy; we have to take action. But God created us to respond to individuals for a reason. And it is consistent with the way Jesus taught.
Love your NEIGHBOR.
This is singular.
This is the man on the side of the road in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The blind man at Bethsaida. The paralyzed man who came through the roof. The woman with the bleeding illness. Nicodemus, seeking out Jesus at night. The man with the crippled hand. The woman from Syria-Phoenicia whose daughter was demon-possessed. Zacchaeus up in the tree. The thief on the cross. Mary at the tomb.
Jesus taught thousands of people, and healed more people than we will ever know. He came to all the world. But he saw the INDIVIDUAL, and he calls us to do the same.
Who do you see? Who do I see today? How do I put myself into the shoes of an individual and love him with the focus and extravagance that God offers each of us. It’s an impossible challenge, but as close as the nearest human.