Pain of tragedy universal, so what triggers our charitable response?

Empathy is the ability to imagine oneself in another’s place and understand the other person’s feelings, desires, ideas and actions. The ability of potential donors to identify with the victims of these three events may have played a role in the disproportionate responses to each. This raises important questions.


• To what extent do the victims’ race, class, gender and nationality influence — consciously or not — a potential donor’s ability to empathize with them?


Paul Bloom’s recent commentary, “The Baby in the Well,” which appeared in The New Yorker, provides one thoughtful answer to these questions: “Our best hope for the future is not to get people to think of all humanity as family — that is impossible. It lies, instead, in an appreciation of the fact that, even if we don’t empathize with distant strangers, their lives have the same value as the lives of those we love.”

By Bruce DeBoskey