Are we empathetic toward the suffering of others?

I know it’s easier to bypass things that bring tears or pain into our lives. But I think it’s important to bring those dark things into the light of our full understanding.  We each have difficult moments in our lives – some because we may not have grieved them sufficiently. Some moments return with all the pain of the original appearance, while others revisit with only a feeling of gloom. I believe each of those relates back to the original heartache or the dwindling of such sorrow. As such, these seem to be emotionally healthy responses to the miseries we witness – either personally, through study, or we otherwise discover.

Today I concern myself with any lack of sadness in me (or any of us) that accompanies a memory of extreme distress. Does that lack show that I’m “over it”? Perhaps it shows that we never really “got it” at all? Or is an apathetic approach a demonstration of human readiness to tolerate that much distress without feeling sad? What’s most frightening to me is the possibility that we as a race don’t invest our emotions in such memories unless they have some personal connection to us.

There are many historical moments of unimaginable brutality or terror, of which we are reminded by cinematic films, television documentaries, news reports, et cetera. Do any of us still grieve for the citizens of the ancient cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii, suddenly and horribly killed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius?
Body casts of victims, courtesy of

But perhaps that is too far from us to hold persistent intensity. Or maybe the fact that it was a natural disaster allows us to believe there would have been nothing we might have done to prevent it – thus relieving any responsibility to grieve.

What of the man-made 1986 nuclear ‘accident’ at Chernobyl in the Ukraine? Still a wasteland, an area extending 19 miles in all directions from the plant is known as the “zone of alienation,” now largely reverted to forest. Even today, radiation levels are so high that the workers responsible for rebuilding the sarcophagus are only allowed to work five hours a day for one month before taking 15 days of rest. Ukrainian officials estimate the area will not be safe for human life again for another 20,000 years.

Birth defects and cancer were the norm for many years following the Chernobyl disaster.  By the time  residents of Pripyat, a town located near the plant, were ordered to evacuate, about two days after the Chernobyl core meltdown had occurred, many had already been exposed to varying doses of radiation poisoning.

From Fire Earth,

Before the horrors of Chernobyl, how many of today’s citizens still shudder at the thought of what millions suffered in the death camps of Nazi Germany during World War II?

Certainly any survivors still living do, as do their descendants. But those of us who had no ancestors in the camps, or were born long after the last camps were closed, or those untouched by the bigotry that gave birth to the camps at all – are we repulsed when we come up against the fact? Or have we now ‘toughened’ so that this kind of disaster no longer outrages us? If we have, I fear an empathetic humanity is deteriorating at an alarming rate.


(Above: A cartload of corpses leaving Dachau. Courtesy of

I weep for these and others who have suffered at the hands of man, or catastrophes attributable to causes of nature. Descriptions evoke my tears and heartache as much as do images of such events. It is my fervent hope that the majority of humanity feels as I do – that such pain must be remembered by we who survive.

I’ve chosen to publish a memorial to some of those who suffered in my recent book, Never Again. Forever! The book gathers memorials from many poets, writers, and artists who join in my commemoration of all who have known punishment (even death) because others feared them, their beliefs, or their appearance during what we now refer to as “The Burning Times”. Not all were burned. Some were hung, others mutilated. Many died, some survived – barely. Their torment and sacrifice must mean something to those who believe in a basic freedom to believe, act, and live as they do.

(To determine the extent of heartfelt empathy still held by my fellow man, I have initiated a contest, based upon the subject matter of this latest book, to which you are invited to enter. First, know that you must be a registered member of in order to enter the contest. Once you’re fully registered and verified, visit the contest page at There you will find several pins (pictures) that attempt to illustrate some of the book’s chapters, notably Accusation, Examination, Incarceration, Interrogation, Tribulation, Adjudication, Elimination, and Signification. Choose any four of these eight phases of horror, and post at least three pictures that you feel best exemplify those stages, on a pinboard you’ve titled “Never Again. Forever!”. Each picture must bear a short description identifying which step it represents, preceded by a hashmark (#). From there, return to the contest page, and post a comment under the picture of the book’s cover, telling me that you have completed the task at hand.
Each entry will be judged by the creativity shown by the posts to identify your feelings about the event. Three winners (all first prizes) will win an autographed copy of the book.)


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Filed under Books, burning times, Contest, Informational, Instructional, witch craze, witch trials

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