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Tragedy vs Statistics

The saying “the death of one is a tragedy, the death of million is just a statistic” has since its first coining been used to express frustration with humanity’s inability to react to large-scale horrors.

It, to me, has been something a bitter cynic says when they are criticizing humanity’s lack of empathy.

An utterance, that like all bitter cynic utterances, stems from a kind heart. A kind heart in the chest of a cynic that just can’t cope with all the horrors and joys of this God’s green proverbial.

I’m not saying Stalin, to whom the phrase is often attributed, had a kind heart. Instead, in Lyon’s 1947 anecdote that notably used the phrase as a punchline, the narrator is obviously the person flinching. While he puts the words in Stalin’s callous mouth, it’s clear that the author does so while weeping and feeling for the famined millions.

Porteus’ version, the oldest on the record, similarly is saying it while railing in frustration at the unfairness of it.

Lately I’ve been thinking… OK, yes, it sucks that people are this way, but this saying also holds the seed to the solution. If humans do work this way, let’s leverage it. It’s a way to hack our brains, fix our hearts, and fully feel and react. A handful of cases become symbolic, personal, relatable, the key to open the lock to our feelings about the unfairness of the situation as a whole. Anne Frank, George Floyd.

The death of a million is a million tragedies. By looking at trees we can know the forest.