“We Care Greatly About Protecting a Single Person in Distress, Particularly If They Have a Face and a Name and Happen to Look Like Us”

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Paul Slovic and Nicole Smith Dahmen published an op-ed in Quartz September 2, 2016 entitled “A year after Aylan Kurdi’s tragic death, the world is still numb to the Syrian refugee crisis."

In it, the authors give an overview of the aftermath caused by the global publication of images of first one, then a second small Syrian child refugee. Nearly 500,000 deaths have occurred since the Syrian war began in 2011, they remind us, and those photographs became the catalyst for some action, such as Germany and Austria opening their borders to crossing migrants, Pope Francis urging Catholic churches to host refugees, and increased donations to funds for Syrian refugees.

They point out, however, that psychic numbing steals our empathy and our will to act. When compounded by our irrational sense of inefficacy, we may begin to feel that our efforts are nothing more than a drop in the bucket.

Slovic and Dahmen suggest we may balance emotion with reason by employing aids to decision-making and pushing for laws and institutions that are grounded in moral reasoning.

What can we do when faced with inefficacy based on a flawed arithmetic of compassion? Perhaps more than charitable donations or social-media sharing.