The last couple of weeks have seen a couple of events that really shook the world. First Notre-Dame caught fire on April 15 and 900 years or so of history nearly went up in flames. However, that paled in comparison to the tragedy that unfolded the following week on Easter Sunday when a series of bombings occurred in Christian churches across Sri Lanka, leaving hundreds dead and several hundreds more wounded.
With such disparity between the two events – one was literally just a building and the others involved the death of hundreds – you’d think that a majority of the attention would be focused on the Sri Lanka tragedy rather than Notre-Dame. Sadly that’s not the case.
Between the millions upon millions being pledged to rebuild Notre-Dame to the many hoaxes and opinion pieces about the cathedral, the building got the lion’s share of the world’s attention while Sri Lanka got barely anything by comparison. In fact, Al Jazeera reported that Google searches for Notre-Dame outnumbered Sri Lanka 7 to 1, especially within the Western hemisphere.
The disproportionate amount of attention to a building compared to actual human life is completely insane and this highlights is a problem the world has with selective grief and how we all are guilty of it.
Now that’s not to say that the Western media didn’t cover the Sri Lanka bombings. But compared to Notre-Dame, it was like a drop of water in the ocean. Whereas people shared posts about the cathedral and bathed their social media in the colours of France, virtually none of that happened when Sri Lanka went up in an explosion.
Selective grief isn’t anything new and near-identical cases have all occurred very recently, such as the 2015 attacks on Paris and Beirut, and the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and Nigeria. People like to tout about living in a globalised world and human lives being equal everywhere, but this notion is just a mere illusion.
Whether its race, religious, how we were all raised, or various other reasons, an argument can be made that the West only really cares about what goes on in the west because it’s “ours” and same goes for those in the East. People relate to what is familiar to them and this results in lopsided coverage of events. Look up Australia’s coverage of Sri Lanka and a good portion of the stories you’ll find revolve around the Australians who were killed rather than the bombings as a collective whole. That’s not to say that this is bad, it just shows that we’re conditioned to look after our own first before worrying about everyone or anything else.
If you truly cared about people equally, then shouldn’t you be putting up the Sri Lankan flag on your Facebook profile rather than the French flag? Shouldn’t you give a shout-out to the hundreds of casualties rather than a 900-year-old building? Wouldn’t all that money for Notre-Dame be better served helping those in Sri Lanka?
This also isn’t to say that you should be criticised for grieving Notre-Dame instead of Sri Lanka. It’s not as simple as a maths exam where there are right and wrong answers. Grief is personal and something everyone goes through differently. Someone might’ve visited Notre-Dame several times before but not Sri Lanka, hence why they would tweet something about the cathedral rather than the bombings.
But what it does mean is that we’re all hypocritical of selective grief. We mourn those who we want to mourn, and we ignore those who we want to ignore. If we were to be a truly globalised world, then everyone should’ve been focused on what happened in Sri Lanka rather than Notre-Dame.
But what those two events highlighted was humanity’s own hypocrisy and how far we need to go when it comes to truly showing solidarity with your fellow human beings instead of, you know, a literal building.