What Happened to Compassion?

by Ginger on October 28, 2011

in Random

Heads up folks. This post talks about a few disturbing things I saw this week. I’ve tried REALLY hard to keep the graphic pieces out and just talk about the events, but I’m still talking about death of both animals and kids. I’ll completely understand if those are triggers for you or if you just don’t want to read this kind of stuff on a Friday.

This week I saw a neighborhood cat die before I left for work. It was a bit of a freak accident, as best we can tell, but it was disturbing nonetheless. But the part that has stuck with me all week, the part I can’t quit thinking about is this:

A neighbor was walking her dog, and pointed the cat out to us to try and get my husband to help. He went to help and that’s when he discovered the cat was dead. And when he told the neighbor, she said something to the effect of “oh, how sad. He was still alive and struggling when I saw him 20 minutes ago, but there was no one around then.”

Which means, as I’ve thought about it, that this neighbor saw this cat in trouble, saw him struggling, saw him hurt, and went on about walking her dog. For twenty minutes.

I don’t know what I expect, but this really bothers me. Beyond the sadness of the cat (which is SAD, and disturbing, and makes me SO GLAD my cat is an indoor cat), it really disturbs me that someone could see an animal in obvious trouble, KNOW that it’s in trouble, and just…keep walking.

I don’t know why I’m surprised though. As much as I want to believe the best in people, to think that despite all the selfishness we’re imbued with as humans, this is tested on a constant, daily basis. The same day this happened I saw the (horrible, heartbreaking) video of a little girl getting run over in China and then ignored by person, after person, after person. I really recommend NOT googling that one if you haven’t seen it–it was horrible to watch and it will make you question whether there are any good people out there.

I’m not someone who stops all the time, or who helps all the time. I’m not a saint, hell, I’m not even a good person all the time. But how do you walk away from that kind of distress? How do you step over a little girl, or a dying cat? How do you just hope someone else will take care of it?

I know there are people who are helpful and hopeful. There are people who help and care and give a damn. I know that. I do. But images like these make it hard for me to keep that in mind sometimes. Which just kills me, because for all my realistic tendencies, I believe that most people would help a stranger in real need. I believe that most people would do what they could for an animal in distress. I believe that if my kid was hurt and I wasn’t around, someone would help him.

And I hate when the world takes those beliefs and makes me question them.

shasta October 28, 2011 at 9:37 am

Yikes, heavy topic for a Friday. But I agree – how do some people just ignore something’s life-or-death struggle without being moved to take action? I’m not one to get in the middle of things, but if I see a creature (e.g. animal, human, sometimes plant) in a situation where its death is imminent, I feel compelled to help. My Husband has actually pulled people out of a burning, overturned car following a car accident. I think when it comes to death, or the threat thereof, it behooves us to put ourselves in the other being’s shoes, and see where that leads us.

Ginger October 28, 2011 at 3:20 pm

I love how you put that: “it behooves us to put ourselves in the other being’s shoes and see where that leads us.”

I’m not a get in the middle-er either (except for one notable exception where I thought a woman was being abused by her boyfriend in a parking lot. I still don’t know if that was brave or dumb as shit), but life or death isn’t the same, you know?

emily @ the happy home October 28, 2011 at 11:10 am

a few months ago, a guy who lived in the apartment across the street from our house came over to ask David if he’d seen his lost Boston terrier named nibbles. David hadn’t, but was entirely disturbed by how the dog got lost:
the man’s apartment let out onto a second-floor outdoor balcony. the man kept his dog out on the balcony all day (with no awning, in Southern California) and when he returned from work, the dog wasn’t on the balcony. which means a few things:
1) the dog was taken by someone (the most ideal situation)
2) the dog was picked up by a large bird (possible but improbable)
3) the dog fell/escaped off the balcony, fell a story, and then walked off injured somewhere to die.
all of which made me wish i’d known the dog was up there, so we could have saved it.
honestly? people are really evil. really, really evil.

Cloud October 28, 2011 at 11:21 am

I have purposely NOT watched the video of the toddler, because yikes. I don’t think I could handle that. Just thinking of it makes me teary and sends me off to look at our online photos of my kids. I can’t imagine not trying to save a child. ANY child.

The cat… well, I know I would have tried to save the cat, but I can’t guarantee I would have thought quickly enough to actually do it. Still, I can’t imagine not trying. Maybe the woman was just overwhelmed with what she’d seen and didn’t know what to do? Thinking about it from the comfort of my desk, with no adrenaline pumping through me and clouding my judgment, I can see that she would have had to tie her dog up somewhere, then try to lift the garage door (which should be possible since the cat presumably kept it from closing all the way), and then- assuming she succeeded- get that cat to a vet. And probably pay for the treatment herself.

All of which I- someone who doesn’t even much like cats (I’m very allergic)- would have tried to do. But some people just freeze in a situation like that and can’t think what to do. So she walked around, looking for someone else to help.

Anyway, that’s the most charitable view I can come up with.

On the bigger question- i.e., where has our compassion gone? I don’t know. I’m not sure it is any worse than it used to be. People have always had the capacity to pretty damn cruel. But maybe the internet/global village thing gives up the opportunity to be reminded of that more often.

Ginger October 28, 2011 at 3:30 pm

I do think there’s very much a case of OMG what do you DO? I keep trying to give her that benefit of the doubt for that reason. But I just don’t know if I would have been able to walk away from an animal in that kind of distress. But what do you do? It’s not a pretty picture in any direction.

Jett October 28, 2011 at 11:35 am

I get incredibly frustrated, too.

I think kindness is one of the most important things in life, and we live in a pretty cynical world. It’s hard not to feel mowed under sometimes. You’re not alone in feeling this way.

KT October 28, 2011 at 12:29 pm

Just a thought….maybe the dog would have gone after the cat? I’m just thinking about a situation I came across a few weeks ago while walking my two dogs. There was a cat in the middle of the street who was clearly hurt. She seemed very dazes and unfazed by my two big dogs. My dogs wouldn’t have hurt her, but other dogs might have done so. I was going to walk home to call someone, but a woman came out of her house to let me know she had already done so and was keeping an eye on the cat. Was your neighbor right near her house? If so then she should have put the dog in the house and tried to help the cat.

I won’t watch the video with the little girl in China but it reminds me of a video of an old man in Hartford (CT) that happened about three years ago. He got hit by a car while crossing the street (later died) and from security camera footage, cars DROVE AROUND HIM along with a guy on his bike without stopping to see if he was okay. WHO DOES THAT????

Ginger October 28, 2011 at 3:35 pm

Well, her dog is about….1/3 the size of the cat (it’s a little toy dog), so I would think that the dog would have been managable. But regardless, she was about 3 doors down from her house, so I just can’t get over the fact that she walked 20 minutes the other direction…

And yeah, I remember that video too. It just…who DOES that??

Erin October 28, 2011 at 4:34 pm

Really makes you wonder … I mean, I know myself and I know I would help, but the scary part is not knowing what others would do. The other day my neighbor’s cat was run over and just left dead in the street. Thankfully, another neighbor noticed before the cat’s owner saw it, and had the chance to break it to them as easily as possible, but still. Just makes you feel shitty about people. And as a sidenote: I also keep my cats indoors, strictly. It’s not a nice world for kitty cats outside.

Lex October 28, 2011 at 4:39 pm

The fact that people can just shrug and be, like, “Whatever.” when somebody is in peril is disturbing beyond belief. The thing with the cat is horrible, but the situation with the little girl is just totally fucked, which inevitably leads me to believe that the vast majority of people are totally fucked. 🙁

Kathleen October 28, 2011 at 5:23 pm


I find it so upsetting how numb we are as a society to suffering. I think the constant barage of upsetting imagery, both fictional and non fictional, combined with the tendency for fewer and fewer of us to really know our neighbours, combined with our self-centered rush rush culture has left many people without awareness or compassion. That, and some people are just terribly unhealthy and unkind as a result.

It makes me want to crawl into a cave. Except the real solution is to do he opposite- the more we reach out, the more we connect, the more compassionate society will be.

Also, I am never googling that video.

Megan October 28, 2011 at 8:59 pm

Chris watched the video, and I couldn’t understand why he would do that. He tried to explain to me that he feels obligated to not hide himself from the horrible things that help make up the human experience. Like, it isn’t fair that he gets to hide from it all.

I’m probably not explaining it right. But, the point is I just CAN’T. I can’t watch that video. I am really glad I didn’t see that cat. It just depresses me to a scary place, and it gives me even worse anxiety than I already have. And when you add people’s indifference and lack of compassion to an already tragic situation, I just feel like I can’t deal. Maybe I’m just too weak.

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