I recently got into a somewhat heated discussion with a close friend. It wasn’t meant to be heated – I’d asked a pretty simple question, “Do you think you care more about what happens to an American vs. what happens to, say, a Canadian?” Cue fireworks! Okay, so maybe the question wasn’t so innocuous.
I broached this question with this
specific friend because I felt her values were closest to mine –
center, skewing left, more spiritual than religious, and because she
generally likes to think of herself as a decent person with an interest
in the world (I’d like to think the same). In reality, I’d asked a
pretty loaded question, and she reacted defensively. What began as a
quiet conversation quickly became an argument, perhaps because we both
wanted the answer to be ‘Of course!’ — and it wasn’t.
So, why do we care more about what’s happening to those in our country?
Is my own sincere concern limited to somewhat arbitrary lines drawn on
I thought I came up with a quick but solid answer; we tend to care more
about people in this country because they live near us, they share our
culture, our jokes, our food. It’s not so much about that big concept
“Patriotism” as it is about comfort.
But take that answer a bit further and we’re left with the fact that
Louisiana is as unfamiliar to me as Montreal, and Alaska might as well
be Argentina. English has become more or less ubiquitous, though at the
same time there are portions of the U.S. I would have trouble
navigating because I took high school French instead of Spanish. Our
country is huge, and our cultures vary wildly. We’ve entered the age of
the global community. So, to use two natural disasters as comparison,
why did Katrina hit our hearts harder than Nargis?
Oh, and side-note: I ask you – and myself – this question ignoring
those practical matters such as politics, the economy and nationality.
I’m more interested in examining the limitations weighing on the
“goodness of my heart”.