Moving Beyond Outrage…Reflecting on Caylee Anthony (by Sean Bess)
I celebrated the fourth of July with my friends. And what better way to do so then by watching America’s favorite pastime while eating hotdogs? We listened to the cheering of slightly buzzed baseball fans and watched as children lost their minds vying for free t-shirts. By the bottom of the fourth the slightly buzzed fans were completely smashed and their cheering became nonsensical shouts about Texas and Napoleon. The end of the ninth inning signaled the moment we had all been waiting for.
In preparation for the fireworks the stadium went dark and the crowd counted down from ten. With the countdown complete the PA system blasted country music and the night sky ignited in two thousand year old Chinese ingenuity. A storm had passed through earlier that day and left a considerable amount of moisture in the air. The combination of moisture and explosions in the sky created a massive cloud, meaning that the fireworks show was mostly colorful smoke. But I didn’t mind, because for me the most entertaining aspect of a fireworks show is watching all of the spectators, unblinking and awestruck. I looked around the stadium and watched as colors flashed and crawled across bewitched faces. Towards the end of the show, just as the finale was beginning, a boy sitting a row in front of us caught my attention. He had each ear plugged with an index finger and stood smiling at his parents. Gaping and wide-eyed he turned and leaned in towards the light, like a UFO abductee.
But on July 5th, celebration turned to outrage as news broke that Casey Anthony was found innocent in the murder of her two year old daughter, Caylee. Social networking sites blew up with inflamed commentary, and my mind went to that boy from the baseball game. He was about Caylee’s age, I think.
In his book, The Elements of Moral Philosophy, James Rachels discusses our responsibility to people in need around the world. He writes…
Each year millions of people die of malnutrition and related health problems. A common pattern among children in poor countries is death from dehydration caused by diarrhea brought on by malnutrition. The executive director of the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) has estimated that about 15,000 children die in this way every day. That comes to 5, 475,000 children annually. If we add those who die from other preventable causes, the number goes over 10 million… Why do we allow people to starve when we could do something about it?
What happened to Caylee is unspeakably tragic and warranted the public’s attention, but what about the 15,000 children dying everyday from dehydration because of malnutrition induced diarrhea? Every 15 seconds a child dies from water-related diseases, but Facebook doesn’t explode with outraged status updates every 15 seconds. Why? Rachels writes, “The starving people are dying at some distance from us; we do not see them and we can avoid even thinking of them.”
The Casey Anthony murder trial had the attention of the American media, and therefore the American people. As the trial progressed people everywhere became endeared to Caylee, and rightfully so. But it makes me wonder, what good is our outrage if its end is a twitter post?
Proverbs 21:13 reads, “If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.” Some interpret these words as a reference to God’s justice, and maybe it is. Maybe Solomon wrote these words to mean, “If you refuse to help others who are in need, then God will ensure that you aren’t helped in your time of need.” But something else comes to mind when I read these words. Apathy leads to apathy. If you are unwilling to help others who are in need, then you are contributing to the spread of indifference. Apathy engenders and perpetuates apathy, meaning that when you are in need there may not be anyone around to help, or even care.
We lament the death of Caylee and we’re outraged at her fate, and if we could have done something to prevent this tragedy, I’m certain we would have. But don’t let your outrage die on the pages of a social networking site. If our outrage prompts charity, if our disgust compels us to give and sacrifice in order to meet the needs of others, then it will be outrage and disgust well spent.
When I think about our responsibility to people in need, specifically impoverished children, my mind goes back to that boy on the fourth of July. If someone had tried to cause him harm at that baseball game, then I would have stepped in. No questions. If that boy had been starving, then I would have taken him to the concession stand and emptied my checking account on hotdogs and nachos. No hesitation. And I think most people would do the same. So why do we hesitate involving ourselves in the countless efforts around the world focused on fighting hunger, providing clean water, and ending deaths caused by preventable diseases?
Sean Bess is a freelance writer living in Birmingham. He blogs at http://wastebaskets.tumblr.com.