From time to time, there are events that challenge my humanism. When there’s a cluster of these events, it really gives me pause to think. The recent news of 700 Club host Pat Robertson’s death and more recently the loss of the five passengers aboard OceanGate’s submersible Titan have me thinking about my own compassion and empathy especially when it comes to other humans far beyond my close circles and definitely those whose core beliefs are well outside my own.
Regarding the former, I posted my immediate reaction on social media: “I don’t wish harm on others as a rule. But I will be celebrating the Pride miracle of Pat Robertson finally dying.” Pat Robertson inarguably harmed the communities I most closely identify with—the GSRM (Gender, Sexual, and Romantic Minorities) and the nonreligious. From faith healing claims and failure to pray away hurricanes to blaming hurricanes on gay people, mountains of articles in the wake of Robertson’s death detail many more of these direct harms.
It was easy for me as a transgender woman, perhaps not to really celebrate, but to acknowledge that the world is a little bit better with this man no longer spewing his vile hatred to millions of loyal viewers.
Similarly, my social media feeds have exploded the past week with satisfaction over the #OceanGate news. The OceanGate Expeditions submersible touring the wreckage of the Titanic was determined to have imploded killing all five passengers after a lengthy and expensive search.
Cheers of “good riddance” rang through the internet about the deaths of the wealthy aboard the submersible including OceanGate founder and CEO Stockton Rush, a space-traveling British billionaire, one of Pakistan’s wealthiest men, and a retired commander in the French navy who led the first expedition to the site of the “unsinkable” ship.
Again I found myself easily agreeing with the sentiment—as someone who grew up middle class but now struggles to make ends meet. I watch as the ultra-rich purposefully hoard wealth while so many sleep under bridges and go hungry. It absolutely makes me feel there should be no billionaires.
Should I celebrate the passing of each one? Am I being some kind of humanist hypocrite? Where is my compassion and empathy, anyway?
All of these people have families who most likely loved them and are hurting, and who—despite their wealth status—may have made positive contributions to our world. Shahzada Dawood was “passionately curious and an enthusiastic supporter of the SETI Institute and our mission, being directly involved in philanthropic programs in education, research and public outreach,” officials said. His nineteen-year-old son Suleman reportedly did not want to go on the expedition, was absolutely terrified, but gave in as a Father’s Day gift to please his dad.
My personal introspection this week asks: Am I betraying my humanist values with some of these feelings? Should we be more compassionate and empathetic in cases like these? Perhaps there is a balance to be found where we can pause to respect that a life has been lost and that family and friends are grieving, while also acknowledging harms a person or class have caused and feeling some relief that those harms have ended.
I’m not suggesting there is any one “right” humanist response to these events. Being human—being humanist—is rarely cut-and-dried or easy, and often the best answer lies in the gray area of nuance between. For me, the challenge is to continue having this dialogue both internally and externally, to challenge my own assumptions and views and be open to revising my thoughts. I challenge you all to do the same.
Between the death of Pat Robertson and tragic submersible disaster, Sarah Ray reflects on recent events that have challenged the compassion and empathy inherent in her humanism.
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