compassion, indifference, callousness, and humans

compassion, indifference, callousness, and humans

Why will some people turn away from the sight of the suffering of others?

Is this a defense mechanism or shielding action of the human psyche to shield us from the sorrow we might feel at the sight of suffering?  Or, is it a conscious choice to be indifferent, to be callous and unfeeling towards the suffering of others?  There are many persons who do not want to allow the tragedy and pain around them to intrude on their life and how they are living it.  Yet, there are individuals who are so acutely sensitive to the pain of others, so empathetic, that they may feel they have to look away as the sight of suffering is so very painful for them.  As well, the (helpless) feeling that they cannot help those who are suffering is distressing to them.

Why is it that some people, without a thought for their own personal safety, will jump in the raging river to try to save the lives of others (who are drowning) while some persons will stare from the safety of the shore and make no effort to assist in rescue operations? These folks do not wish to “get involved” – and they do not do so.

We are not offering nor postulating any answers here.  This essay is just something to ponder for a few minutes.

a recent, poignant personal experience

After strolling through the Japanese Tea Garden, my wife and I walked over to see the new exhibit in the Academy of Sciences.  In this exhibit on skulls (from tiny animal ones to those of larger mammals, primates and birds), we saw a young Asian girl of perhaps 8 or 9 years old in a wheelchair.  She was accompanied by her mother, a sister, and another woman who may have been an aunt.

This girl, who may also have had a slight degree of cerebral palsy, was smiling, aware, and looking around at the exhibit, and at the other nearby people.  Despite her condition, she appeared happy.  She is fortunate enough to have a loving family who care for her.

I thought of saying a kind word or two to her mother, but at this moment friends of the family appeared and started to engage the girl’s family in conversation.  I did smile for the young girl from a distance and she may have seen this.  She continued smiling as we left the exhibit area.

This beautiful young girl may not have the best “quality of life” – but she is loved and likely knows this or feels this.  As well, she no doubt feels affection for her family members.

As I have written before, when I see the mangled body of a horribly deformed child, or a severely maimed war veteran or accident victim, or the spastic, convulsive motions of the neurologically handicapped, I see an immortal soul in that body.  If you do not see this, dear reader, then I dare say that it is time for some honest introspection . . . on your part.

When you choose to love, you open yourself up to being hurt, and you are more sensitive to (and more aware of) the pain and suffering of others.  But, to be fully alive, one must love.  (Learn to love before you leave this world.)

The below picture was taken on 30 June 2014 in the Japanese Tea Garden located in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.  It was about 10 a.m. this summer morning.  With summer time, or daylight savings time, the sun is still fairly low in the sky at this time.  The light and shadow make this an interesting image of the statue of the Buddha.  The Buddha taught compassion and respect for all life.  (When we are up to it, we will continue with some (several) photo essays, and some thematic essays, too.)


Buddha 3


copyright 2014 –


  1. Good thoughts, Larry. I have always felt that those people who ignore the suffering of others cannot call themselves true Christians. Suffering is there for a reason – to teach us to love and strive to take care of each other. without that, we are nothing but empty vessels walking through life with no purpose at all.

  2. Completely agree. But sometimes you cannot physically see the suffering. As with invisible or chronic illnesses. Or people who are really good at hiding it.

    1. Thanks Rachel-Elaine. Yes, that is true. There is so much suffering under the surface and much suffering is not physical, but is emotional and mental anguish.

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