Members of the media position themselves, as a policeman stands guard outside the King Edward VII hospital where the Duchess of Cambridge was admitted with a severe form of morning sickness, in London on Dec. 3, 2012.
By now, you probably know the facts as well as anyone, but just in case: Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge was admitted to the hospital for severe morning sickness. Australian radio show hosts pretending to be Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles got one of the duchess’ personal nurses to disclose private information regarding her patient over the phone.
One of the nurses, who transfered the call, Jacintha Saldanha was found dead in her London home Friday, and while the cause is not yet known, Scotland Yard is investigating it as a possible suicide. The story is attracting a huge amount of attention right here in the United States.
Why do we care about the death of an unknown nurse, especially one so far away? Why should we care about this story?
We care because we love stories connected to celebrities. We care because we love the whiff of a morality play, whether it is about the “wicked radio people” who some will surely blame for the death of an innocent young woman, or those who will claim that she was anything but innocent, taking her own life because of the “shame and guilt that grew out of her betrayal of a patient’s privacy” – and a royal patient no less!
Of course, all of that is speculation based on the presumption that it was a suicide, which we don’t yet know. But as moral creatures, and creatures who crave justice and balance, we find it hard to resist such presumptions, especially when they involve the celebrities with whom we are obsessed. That is why most people care about this story, and frankly, probably what captured my attention at well, if only on an unconscious level. But it’s not what we should be focusing on, at least not now.
A young woman is dead. It is as simple as that, and before any more analysis – analysis about our celebrity-soaked culture, about the end of privacy in the 21st century, or any of the other lenses through which this story will be seen, including my own just-offered suggestions – I wonder if we shouldn’t simply care because someone has died a tragic death, whether at her own hand or the hand of another.
If we are going to care about this story, can we at least train ourselves to think about the loss of life before anything else?
I know that were the circumstances different, if the story did not involve “royals” or if there was no “betrayal angle” or the suggestion of suicide, the story would get no attention at all. I get that, and I accept that. But before we indulge all of that, perhaps we could all simply acknowledge that the first story, if not the only story here, should be how to cultivate a bit of compassion for the one who has died, regardless of the circumstances.
We will go on loving celebrity stories and morality plays because we are who we are, but imagine if that was the second thing we did. Imagine that we tried to think first, about the person who is gone, before the circumstances which lead to their death.
I am often asked about what it means to practice compassion, and while I don’t have a single easy answer, I am pretty sure that thinking about the person first, and the story second, would be a good place to start.
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