Within hours of the catastrophic fire that devastated the cherished Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris April 15, donors had pledged more than $1 billion to restore the building, according to The Washington Post.
No one died. No one was injured. But after an outpouring of support worldwide and countless Instagram posts from seemingly everyone who has ever been near the cathedral on vacation, a significant part of the building’s reconstruction costs are now covered.
Six days later, 250 people were killed and 500 injured in a devastating, sweeping attack that saw eight suicide bombers deployed to six sites in three Sri Lankan cities. But Google Trends registered that within 24 hours of both incidents, the Notre Dame fire drew from five to nine times more interest than the Sri Lankan bombings.
So to address the elephant in the room: Why do we care more about a historic building than the lives of hundreds of people? The attack received nationwide coverage, but nowhere near the continuing magnitude of the Notre Dame fire or the New Zealand shooting that left almost 50 people dead in March.
At Chapman, memorials for New Zealand and the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting that that killed 11 people have drawn dozens of students. An April 25 memorial for the victims of the Sri Lanka attacks only saw about 20 people in attendance.
We tend to pay more attention to tragedies in the Western hemisphere, and that makes sense: events that are proximate to us hold the most emotional value. And with the influxes of violence and hatred nationwide and the near-constant media coverage that follows them, maybe it’s easier to face the idea of a burning building than hundreds of bodies in a faraway country.
Because we live in the U.S., it’s easy to think “Oh, that could never happen here,” and dismiss these tragedies as symptomatic of government failure in a developing country. But death is death and suffering is suffering. Human pain doesn’t know country borders and pays no mind to hemispheres. If we mourn New Zealand, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh, we should also lament for Sri Lanka.
Next time a tragedy happens outside of your typical bubble of influence, take a moment out of your day to think about it. Read about it. Don’t skim over people’s pain because you don’t feel personally affected. Maybe you haven’t been to Sri Lanka. Maybe it doesn’t feel as familiar to you as Paris does. But it should.