It is difficult to avoid the continuing saga of the McCann case, and from the beginning it brought up a few things for me.
It is obviously terrible for the ones going through it, and especially the parents. It is easy to empathize with them and wish them all the best.
But I also notice something about how they go about the case: they treat it as if it is only about their child, and it is a unique case.
It is true of course. It is about their child, and they are willing to do anything to get her back or at least know what happened to her.
At the same time, presenting it as only about them tends to backfire in a couple of ways.
It creates even more suffering for them, because it tends to make it appear as their situation is unique. It creates a sense of isolation, even in the midst of all the support they have. As they themselves said, they feel that they are the most unhappy people in the world. Nobody is going through something quite as terrible.
It also tends to erode or make more precarious the sympathy they receive from the general public. It is easy to think, well, lots of kids go missing every day. Why is there so much attention on just this case? Why do they get all that money from the public and wealthy folks, while others have to struggle through it on their own means?
An alternative approach, which some others take in similar situations, is to see that it is not just about me.
This is a shared experience. Everyone experience loss in life, including the loss of a loved one. Many experience the loss of a family member without having the resolution of knowing what happened to them. And many also have a child who goes missing, as they do.
They could take this to heart and use the publicity they receive to focus on missing children in general, and even use some of the money they receive to set up or support an existing fund or an organization to help find missing children. It is surely needed.
This would help alleviate their suffering. The loss would be the same, but the added suffering from feeling that they are alone in it would diminish or fall away. They would have a sense of their loss being an universal experience, shared by anyone alive.
And they would receive far more sympathy from the general public, including money if they set or supported an existing fund or organization.
These are two alternative ways of approaching the situation, but it is of course not always a choice.
If we generally have a smaller circle of care, concern and compassion, or take whatever happens to us as intensely personal rather than a flavor of an universal and shared experience, we tend to act as they do. And stress tends to make our circle smaller anyway.
If we have a wider circle of care, and see & feel whatever happens to us as an instance of an universal experience, we would tend to broaden our focus. We can put our effort into finding this child, within the context of it being something many experience. And this could even be more effective in finding this one child because it would tend to generate more interest and active support.
It seems that this also has a cultural component.
In some cultures, there is a tendency to more of an individual focus, as in Britain and many countries in the west. Something happens to me, and it is intensely personal and unique.
In other cultures, including some European ones, there is more of an emphasis on the collective and the shared. If something happens to me, it is within the context of it also happening to many others.