While most of us will see a single death as a tragedy, we can struggle to have the same response to large-scale loss of life. Too often, the deaths of many simply become a statistic.
The millions of lives lost in natural disasters, wars or to famine, for example, grow too large to fathom.
Even now we can see the same strange process happening as the worldwide death toll due to coronavirus rises. The number of lives claimed by the virus has already exceeded 400,000 and more than seven million cases have been recorded in 200 countries. Each death is a tragedy played out on an individual level, with a family left shocked and bereaved. But as we zoom out, can anyone really wrap their head around such large numbers?
Humans are very social creatures, and we put great value in personal relationships, which is why we can see the death of one black man and have that trigger a deep sympathy for the countless other situations like that. Putting the face of an individual on a larger problem connects with our brains. But then there are things like Covid-19 where the dead are not on TV where we can see them and sympathize with them as easily. Despite the numbers being huge, our natural instint is to brush it off with statements like "a lot of things kill people" or "look, it's bad, but what can we do?"
There's also the fact that we can only be deeply sad for so long before things get "back to normal" even if the thing that brought us down is still going on. The current pandemic situation is a perfect example of this happening in real time.