There has been widespread media coverage about the public outcry during Peel Regional Police’s late night Amber Alert on the day that 11 year old Riya Rajkumar was reported missing, and later, found dead.
In the midst of an urgent message sent to alert the community that a young child was in grave danger, 911 was inundated with calls from people complaining that their phone had rung late at night or that the Amber Alert had led them to miss part of the Leafs game.
According to a report recently released by Peel Regional Police, 43% of the calls received by 911 during the Amber Alert were a “misuse of the 911 system”. In other words, 43% of the calls received were people complaining that their lives were interrupted by the Amber Alert.
I can only imagine how Riya’s mother must feel, knowing that so few people were able to have empathy for a situation that turned into an excruciating nightmare that she could never even have imagined she would be facing.
To say that an interruption to one’s sleep, or missing part of a hockey game is trivial as compared to having one’s daughter murdered is an understatement.
Riya’s mother is now faced with the horrific reality of grieving the loss of her daughter, at the hands of her father. However, to add fuel to the fire, she will now also have to come to terms with how so many people could have had no empathy for the urgent and dangerous situation that her daughter was in.
I cannot imagine what it must feel like to know that so many people were outraged over a minor inconvenience, as the police were trying to save your daughter’s life.
I cannot imagine what it must feel like to know that so many people had no empathy for this unspeakable tragedy.
Being able to feel empathy requires being able to take another person’s perspective into account. It entails being able to see two sides of a situation. You are able to see your own perspective, but you are also able to take into consideration that the exact same situation may be affecting someone else very differently.
Someone who is capable of perspective taking would have been able to recognize that they were frustrated, upset, even angry by being woken up in the middle of the night. They would then be able to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and imagine what life would be like if they were Riya’s mother. They could then contrast their own upset over the inconvenience of the Amber Alert to the emotions they might be experiencing if they were Riya’s mother. And they could then rationally remind themselves that the Amber Alert serves a good purpose and that they could just fall asleep again.
But doing so also takes an ability to stay calm enough to get yourself to this place of empathy.
The people who made those phone calls that night were in a reactive state. They were acting on impulse and the part of the brain that is involved in perspective taking had shut down. These people were stuck in their thinking – stuck thinking about themselves and the inconveniences that were being caused to their lives.
Everyone warns their children about strangers. I think the real danger is living in a world where 43% of people calling 911 are so focused on themselves, unable to shift their perspective, that the fact that an 11 year old was in grave danger was not even on their radar.
It is a scary world that we live in, folks.
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