Telling people 55 million children have been aborted in our country since Roe v Wade is true, but it might not be a good strategy to get people to care about stopping the killing. All over Facebook today I have seen pro-life advocates remind people of this fact on this 40th anniversary of Roe.
But while researching American apathy to genocide in other countries, Paul Slovic found that we are less likely to help people as the number of people who need help increases. His article, whose title quotes Mother Theresa, is called, “If I look at the mass, I will never act.” Slovic writes,
I shall draw from psychological research to show how the statistics of mass murder or genocide, no matter how large the numbers, fail to convey the true meaning of such atrocities. The reported numbers of deaths represent dry statistics, “human beings with the tears dried off,” that fail to spark emotion or feeling and thus fail to motivate action.
People simply can’t comprehend the large numbers involved in genocide reports, especially when there are over a million victims (can you see a “million” of anything in your mind?). As a result, they simply choose to do nothing since they think there is nothing meaningful they can do. Only when events involve individuals in danger do people act. They even act when these individuals aren’t human.
For example, you would probably have a hard time raising $50,000 to keep thousands of dogs and cats in your city from being put to sleep. Yet Slovic describes a case where the Coast Guard spent almost that much saving one dog stuck on a drifting tanker at sea. Slovic also found that people gave more money to a fundraising plea about one child in need then to an identical plea about eight children in need. Slovic even found that having to think about TWO children in need, as opposed to one, caused people to give less money.
Concerning genocide, Slovic found that saying millions of people were being killed overseas did not motivate Americans to act in a meaningful way. The huge loss of life and our ability to want to help causes “compassion fatigue.” We simply grow weary at trying to stop evil that seems endless. Worse, as we view evil we psychically numb ourselves to it so that we don’t break down into tears. But this numbing also discourages us to make efforts to stop the killing.
Nearly all pro-life advocates have engaged in this numbing because their reaction to seeing bloody pictures of aborted fetuses for the hundredth time is usually not as emotional as the first time they see them. Sometimes they act as if the pictures were like a random landscape image and they proceed go about their work. I know I have.
So when pro-lifers ask for help because over a million children have been aborted this year or 55 million children have been aborted since 1973, people don’t act because the numbers confuse and overwhelm them.
A better strategy would be to focus on the ONE child you can save by talking to your friends and family and volunteering at your local pregnancy center. Or, place a sign in your church with an ultrasound picture of a child whose mother recently visited a pregnancy center with the words, “Please help THIS child to not be aborted.”
Since human life is infinitely and intrinsically valuable, even saving one life makes all the difference and makes our efforts worth it. But if millions of people each focus on saving one life, then in the end millions of lives actually are saved.