Students lack empathy


Lauren Hofmann

“Achoo,” someone sneezes in the hallway.
“Uh-oh,” the sneezer’s friend says. “Looks like we might have a case of Ebola here.”
I heard this type of joking multiple times a day when the Ebola outbreak started becoming bigger and more people were hearing about the case on the news. This was the popular joke at the time. I know I even made my own quips about it, just because it seemed that the fatal disease of Ebola was something everyone wanted to bring up and joke about.
While this talk is all playful banter, I can’t help but feel ashamed that I would talk so lightly about something that kills so many people.
Maybe it is the way the word rolls off the tongue; foreign sounding and fun to say, but in reality there is nothing funny about Ebola. This disease killed at least 4,493 people in West Africa in 2014, according to the International Business Times. Even with these grim numbers, living in Columbia, Missouri, it feels as though I am not connected to that at all.
Of course, I feel horrible for all the people who have to go through this disease, or even die from it, but I still feel distant. The epidemic is so far away and so different from my life, I couldn’t imagine something like that happening to me.
It’s not just Ebola, though. With every year comes a new event that, however ominous, is made fun of. I will admit that I used to view North Koreans as brainwashed robots who were not smart enough to break free from their overly-powerful government, when in reality they are just people in a different situation than me.
I think I wasn’t the only student in America with this opinion of North Koreans. For example, ‘The Interview,’ a fictional movie that came out in 2014, blatantly made fun of North Korea, without giving much thought to the actual hardships its people face every day.
In North Korea (or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as it is now known), mass starvation swept the nation throughout the 1990s, and in 2004, the World Food Program found that 57 percent of North Koreans don’t have enough food to stay healthy. The people in North Korea have no religious freedom. All televisions are controlled by the government, and the North Korean people are divided into 51 different social classes based on loyalty to the state, according to the Asahi Shimbun.
These social classes control what job North Koreans can have, what kind of school they can go to, and they are based off of their ancestors’ actions. In America people freak out when a giant soda is banned, so how would we deal with the censoring of our internet?
As Americans, our conditions of life are usually acceptable, if nothing else. Of course, bad things exist in the United States, but many of the deadliest, uncontainable diseases and most corrupt governments preside in other parts of the world. Maybe schools should start taking action, by educating students on the gravity of certain world events and let them know what is really going on.
As Baba Dioum, a environmentalist, once said, “In the end… we will only love what we understand; and we will only understand what we are taught.”
If anything, we should all remember to have empathy and compassion for others and what they undergo. If we all could think twice about the things we say, and make an effort to be better educated on important issues, the world would be a finer place.
By Lauren Hofmann
Photo by Lauren Hofmann