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Pictures of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi’s lifeless body have stunned the world. The toddler washed up on the shores of Turkey after his family’s unsuccessful attempt to migrate to Greece from their war-torn country. Aylan’s mother and older brother also perished during the journey, only his grieving father remains. While Europe struggles to cope with unrelenting waves of refugees seeking asylum on the continent, little Aylan’s body painfully highlights just what’s at stake.

However, he isn’t the first.

More than 2600 people have died at sea trying to make it to Greece and Italy this year. Just a week ago, approximately 150 people drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. Days before that, 71 people, including several children, were found dead in a refrigerated truck in Austria attempting to making the dangerous journey to freedom. And this week, officials in Hungary barred scores of refugees from boarding a train to Germany despite Germany’s willingness to take them in.

Budapest, Hungary - The Independent

Budapest, Hungary – The Independent

Each of these incidents have produced gruesome, heartbreaking images, but its little Aylan’s lifeless body that has engendered international outrage and calls on Europe to do something to end the migrants’ misery.

But why does it take horrific images for people to begin care about others’ plight?

And how long does their concern for others even last?

Some argue that we’ve got to see exactly what’s happening so people will be shocked into action, but I’m not so sure anymore. After all, we saw Trayvon Martin lying facedown in the grass after George Zimmerman killed him, and we watched as Michael Brown’s body baked in the August heat for over four hours. We saw 12-year-old Tamir Rice being gunned down by Cleveland police, Walter Scott shot in the back while he was running away, and Sam Dubose shot in the head. We saw a Texas cop manhandle a 14-year-old girl in a bikini, and Sandra Bland being arrested for refusing to put out a cigarette. We’ve seen Nigerian victims of Boko Haram, Syrian children gassed by their president, and Palestinian villages destroyed by Israeli bombs.

We’ve seen it all, and yet we continue to go about our days as if nothing happened.

Why is it so difficult for us to see the humanity of others unless they are suffering?

Whenever a horrific image comes across my radar I feel conflicted. While sharing it may raise awareness about a particular issue, I also think about the families and friends of the victims who have to constantly see their dead or maimed loved one flashed across TV screens, computer monitors, and smartphones.

Seeing people in suffer and feeling bad about it one thing, acting to prevent their suffering is something else, something better. Unfortunately, that rarely happens. These days, we see something troubling, we condemn it, then we move on. Sadly, this does little to help those most at risk.

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  • Vintage

    This poor baby and his parents. I had avoided looking at this photo and scrolling through here my first thought was that a trigger warning would have been useful. But people all over the world suffer tragedies like this every day, it’s unfortunately a part of life for many.

  • FromTokyo

    It may sound weird, but yes. For some people, tragedy is just a concept – they don’t have anything to tie it to, and so it can sometime breed apathy. But seeing those horrible things and being better able to put yourself in those people’s shoes, makes you feel more motivated to at least care. And frankly, Americans are hypocrites when it comes to things like this: They care more about it being shown than it happening in the first place. Makes me think of the movie about child soldiers in Africa coming out next month, Beasts of No Nation (from the novel). People’s comments on the trailer speaking against showing such things made me so disgusted, because you know that those same people don’t give a rat’s tail that it really happens, that is really happening right now. They’re just airing their tears about something they don’t have to experience in the first place, while complaining that the light being shone on it exists. It’s absurd.