My heart broke yesterday, when I saw the video of a small boy shaking in the snow laying on the road side in Quetta. In the freezing temperature he was out to shine shoes so that he could make ends meet and probably get food for himself or his family. There was widespread outrage, the images were haunting, everyone wanted to help that poor boy. TV screens lit up, the government of Balochistan announced that this boy will be their responsibility from now on. Not sure if that boy was found again or not, and neither knowing that but we all collectively felt good about ourselves. We had seen a poor boy suffering and we all had gathered around him, wanting to help him and support him, and at the first sign this had happened that help had somehow reached him, we all patted ourselves on the back.
Before seeing those viral photos and videos, we probably deep down, had an idea that this boy or boys like him existed. Yet, we weren’t compelled to seek him out. This is what I call selective amnesia. We chose not to acknowledge him until we saw it. We choose not to act until it was shoved in our faces. We choose not to care until it was drilled into our empathy lacking conscious.
Many people would have also seen this boy on the street, and dismissed him like we ordinarily do when we see the poor and destitute on the streets. Only when one individual was affected by the boy and his condition – that individual chose to act. The individual who we know nothing off made a video and posted it online. I am not aware if the individual who recorded the video chose to help the boy. My first inkling if I see a semi-frozen child shaking violently is not to make a video, but to get him some help, to give him some food and to get him some warmth. A rational first inkling wouldn’t be to make a video and post it online. One can assume – even if it is a bit of a stretch – that if some help was given to the boy by the video maker he or she would have shared that too. Yet, to give the benefit of the doubt I am going to argue that for whatever reason that person did not have any other recourse. I am going to think that that person couldn’t help that boy in any other way beyond what he or she did.
Now, why did this boy affect us so much and not all those bystanders on that street? I am going to argue this was because that boy on that street for those walking was a routine occurrence. We are all so used to seeing someone suffering on the street. We also are all so used to doing nothing about said suffering. Yet, when that boy was presented to us on social media, where we like to think highly of ourselves and also which is our exclusive domain away from such things, it touched us and got to us. We had to act. It was as much a display of sympathy as it was a feature of our own human psychology. There probably were other such unfortunate souls on the street that day too. In a country where poverty is so rampant why wouldn’t they be? Yet, they continue to remain invisible for us. Forgotten into the pits of our selective amnesia.
I can’t fault anyone who like myself felt sorry for that boy, or who wanted to help him. I felt the same. It is strange that what we see often rarely affects us any more. We see people suffering on the street too often so we ignore it. We see people suffering on social media rarely so we act. Maybe our real problem isn’t that boy who was suffering on the street that day, it is our indifference which lets so many like him suffer in silence, while we pick one case that is brought to us, try to do something about it or express remorse and move on feeling good about ourselves for nor real reason.