A Nation without empathy? A frightening thought
(Author: Norah Ngobeni)
Throughout Oscar Pistorius’ verdict and sentencing, I was saddened and alarmed at how vindictive and opinionated we can be as a society. Most of us had something to say on the subject either through the social media, print, radio and television as well as to friends, family and colleagues, anyone who could listen including strangers. In between our anger and opinions as well as playing judge, we sometimes failed to reflect on other issues pertinent to the case.
For example, the accused was a 27 years old man, who was famous and wealthy at this young age, when most people in this age group are still growing up emotionally and financially, trying to get their careers or businesses running as well as trying to get stable relationships and partners. Most struggle to do this until they are well into their 30’s. Here was a 27-year old who had it all, and on top of that he was physically disabled. Could he have managed to hold everything together at this tender age – fame, wealth, relationships and all the glitter and glamour that went along with celebrity status?
The second issue to reflect on is that most so called celebrities are often made by us – the media and society. I have often observed the media building up someone when they start to succeed in something, and we the society lap up everything the media feeds us about them, and we enjoy it and we claim them as our heroes and heroines, we also elevate the celebrities every chance we get – until they make mistakes – and then we pounce on them and devour them. So we, the people and the media, we have the power to make and destroy celebrities.
What Pistorius has done is very sad, we should all be saddened by it, and also be saddened that we have also lost yet another South African hero. As a country we benefited from his fame internationally. His family too has been affected, they feel the pain because he is their blood, they have to support him, whether he is guilty or not, that is how families operate.
On the other side there is Reeva, who is the real victim here. She was young and very beautiful, with a bright promising future; she was still a blooming flower with promises of growing different shades of colours and sweet scents. She could have been in a relationship with any handsome young man, but she chose Pistorius, we don’t know her reasons, maybe she liked him or loved him, we shall never know. Sometimes I ask myself, would she have had a relationship with him if he was not a celebrity? We shall never know that too.
Her death is very tragic, one of many such in our country where women die in the hands of their partners.
She had so much to offer to her family, friends as well as the society. Did many of us pause through our anger and opinions to imagine how her parents and family are feeling? Only parents who have lost children through death can truly understand what they are going through. It is said that the loss of a child is very painful, and the grieving never ends. I observed Reeva’s parents in court throughout the trial, they were very dignified but you could see the pain in them. Yet again some of us criticised them as soon as we heard news of the money they received from Pistorius after their daughter’s death.
Did we stop to think and to imagine what their situation was soon after Reeva’s death? Do we know how pain and grief combined with financial suffering can affect the bereaved? My fear is that we seem to be looking like a society that lacks empathy. Empathy is a very important human feeling, and we should do everything not to lose it. Hardened criminals and other people with mental pathologies like sociopaths usually lack empathy, which is why they continue to do what they do to other people because they are incapable of feeling for others.
What would become of us as a nation if we lose our ability for empathy? It’s a frightening thought….