Dead People
By Bart Vogelzang

By now, we’ve probably all seen the movie “The Sixth Sense (1999), and felt that frisson when we heard Haley Joel Osment whisper,
“I see dead people”, however I think many of us see dead people all around us, both near and far.

Unless we have a personal connection with someone, talking with them, emailing them, or writing letters, most of us really don’t see others as being alive, accept academically. We can recognize that they exist, and that they are shaped sort of like us, but they mean nothing to us emotionally. They only exist to us based on what they do for us, or to us, and if they don’t meet one of those attributes, they mean even less. We discount them as being irrelevant to us, if we even get that far in our thoughts.

How else can we explain our lack of compassion when we hear that millions of people are at death’s door in the Horn of Africa? How else can we ignore the trauma inflicted upon thousands fleeing volcanoes, drowning in floods, and dying in the inner cities of our own countries? How else can we be impervious to the distress of a teenage single mom giving birth with no-one to help, or the old man shoved over and his cane stolen by some hoodlum? We just don’t see them as people. They don’t affect us, so the best we can do is intellectually rationalize that we should care, if we are to respect ourselves at all, but deep down we know we are faking it.

We form tight bonds with those who interact actively with us, even though those bonds might be ones of anger or despair, love and appreciation, or mutual endeavors like work or organizations. Your dog or cat can have a tight bond with you, receiving more concern and respect from you than the neighbor three doors down. A ‘perfect stranger’ met online, who chats with you constantly will get more emotion from you than your brother or sister not seen for several years. These people interacting with you are truly human, alive in your emotional eyes, and those others, not directly interacting, are mere inconveniences at best, and totally disruptive at worst.

Why is it that sometimes parents will eject their own child from their family? Their child upsets them, in a very serious way, and they know on some instinctive level that only banishing the child from their presence will allow them the luxury of removing them from their own thoughts as being alive. If the awful words, “You are dead to me,” are spoken, it is because they cannot deal with their own insecurity and anguish, distress or consternation, and seek to protect themselves by removing those very personal contacts that are so needed in order to see someone as a live human being.

Why is it that good business people, politicians, charity workers, and help providers make a point of shaking hands, patting shoulders, and ‘kissing babies’? It is because they know that the personal contact is essential to having them seen as live people and not as some insignificant intrusion. A good parade, like Pride parades, does more good in showing people that the LGBTQ community are truly people, than any number of articles (even this one). Showing your love for your partner in a public setting, while discomforting to some, has the same benefit no matter what the perception of those seeing it; they see you as a live human being. When this personal evidence clashes with an ideology that insists we aren’t human, and have ‘wrong’ feelings, the truth will inevitably win.

The next time you see a video clip, or hear about some tragedy that has befallen someone else, someone you don’t see as relevant in your life, think about how they feel, their sorrows, their fears and their hopes, and realize that you have just been given an opportunity to picture them as real people. Share that opportunity by doing something to help them, whether it is with a donation of some kind, a personal message, or best of all, giving them a hug. Stop seeing dead people; the world will be a better place for sharing love and respect with everyone.