“Let’s say it wasn’t my heart. Not me. Just a star you didn’t know.”
This quote is from one of my all-time favorite movies, Stardust. (The movie is based on the book of the same name by one of my favorite authors, Neil Gaiman, although the book and movie are quite different.)
In it, Yvaine is a star, fallen to earth, hunted by evil witches. They want to cut out her heart and eat it, since a star’s heart extends life, bestowing youth and beauty. She’s traveling with Tristan, who came looking for the star so he could take it home to the girl he thinks he loves. When he understands the implications, Yvaine asks if he’d ever be tempted to kill someone for the chance at immortality — as long as the star in question wasn’t his friend, of course.
This movie quote has come to mind often lately, and I’ve also been thinking a lot about studies that indicate that we have a hard time caring when hundreds of thousands — or millions — are suffering. We don’t care about large numbers. We care if it can be made personal, down to one person. As long as it’s not someone you know, you are likely willing countenance all sorts of horrors perpetrated against others. And if it’s against a large group of people, rather than just one person, you’re even less likely to care.
It’s why we’re fine with angrily yelling at children we don’t know and sending them, by the thousands, to be raped, exploited, pressed into gangs or armies, and even killed.
But God help the coach who doesn’t put Our Little Darling in the game, or the teacher who hurts The Little Treasure’s feelings by truthfully asking for improvement at school.
We care about the struggles of those we know, even if those struggles are nothing compared to what thousands — or millions — of others face every day.