One photo beats a million statistics
Last Thursday morning, with a lump in my throat, I finished the newspaper and folded it carefully. I didn’t want the kids to see the pictures of the lifeless body of three year old Syrian refugee Aylan Kurdi lying in the surf on a Turkish beach. Later in the day, I came into our living room to find Charlie, our three year old, snoozing on the sofa in almost the same position, bum in the air, one arm along his body, the only difference his thumb stuck firmly in his mouth. I lifted him up and hugged him close, tears in my eyes.
Many people have asked why it took these pictures to make so many sit up and take notice when the refugee crisis has been building for so long. Countless other little kids have drowned in the Med, out of sight, their parents trying to get them to physical and economic safety, yet it is only now that the on-line petitions have started, charitable donations have surged and politicians have started to do something more than mouth platitudes.
The answer is human nature – we relate emotionally to individuals, not numbers. We cannot comprehend the six million-plus who perished in The Holocaust, so we focus on Anne Frank. By all accounts, Anne Frank was a perfectly normal little girl, who happened to keep a diary, caught up in one of the blackest periods in history. Her posthumous fame doesn’t detract from the suffering of the millions of others, it simply helps us get out heads around it by scaling it down to the personal level we can engage with.
I’ve been aware of the refugee crisis for a long time, but the photos of little Aylan made me act – if only to sign petitions and pledge some cash. I feel guilty that I didn’t made these small efforts months ago, and I’m certainly in no position to criticise others for ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ now. At the end of the day, we’re just being human.