When one death seems more tragic than many

“In 2007, there were 37 countries in which at least 10% of children under five died,” according to Wikipedia. The death rate for children under 5 in the USA is under 1%, and that is considered high for an industrialized country.

I am not remotely trying to suggest that people should not get upset about the recent tragic death of Christina Green in Arizona, but why does her death elicit more emotion than the previous paragraph? It is more upsetting, at least to me, yet my mind tells me that the numbers should mean more. Am I incapable of generalizing?

A politician trying to use deaths to promote gun control is more likely to use individuals rather than numbers. Before the recession, our newspaper led an article about low unemployment by writing a paragraph about someone who was still unemployed, and it often starts articles that are about statistics with examples of individuals.

I am more interested in the numbers. I want to know how many, what percent, how has it changed, and what factors effect how accurate the numbers are. Yet I am more influenced emotionally by the story about the individual. The fact that many people react this way will encourage stories to be about individuals rather than numbers.

If there ever is a year when New York, NY has only one murder, the story will focus on that murder, rather than the astonishing fact that a city that normally has hundreds of murders only has one.


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