I can’t really speak for anyone living outside of the United States, but from my personal experience in the United States I can safely say that there are two types of the average American actually cares about: Americans in the US and Americans abroad. That’s it.
Although we’re raised to tolerate and respect “all people”, our definitions of “all people” are really very narrow. We are taught to tolerate people’s differences as they pertain to our little bubble. People who do not fall within our sphere (be it our neighborhood, our city, or our country) are somehow outside of what is fathomed as being truly human.
The American public consumes photography unlike any other country I’ve ever heard of. We love seeing emotional pictures of people in foreign parts of the world, be they smiling or starving, and we can generally try to imagine the person in the picture in real life, but only in the moment the photo was taken. How many people thought about what the famous Afghan girl was doing before and after the moment she was photographed? We think, “I wonder where she is now” instead of thinking, “I wonder what she was thinking in that moment? Or right before? Or an hour later? What was going on inside her head.” We like facts and empirical data, but somehow, it is next to impossible for us to visualize or otherwise imagine the everyday reality of people we don’t know, especially when cultural, religious, etc. values aren’t held constant.
Ultimately, that’s why I feel that the West has all but ignored the plight of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. They’re people, but they’re not people like us. Because we’re not of the same culture or religion, there must be other differences right? They must be used to not having anything to eat or no access to medical care. It’s just how it’s meant to be in that part of the world. The average person can’t truly internalize the fact that the photos that both disturb and provoke us (sometimes just for a few moments, sometimes for life) are reality. The little girl in the photo is a real person, with a mom and a dad, who has fallen down and scraped her knee before just like your own daughter has. Where is the difference?
In the end, no amount of cultural difference can ever rationalize the idea that somehow, people on the other side of the world feel any differently than we do. Human is human. It’s not enough to say you understand that concept to make it sink in. I don’t know how it does for some people and not quite for others, but I hope, for the sake of the world, that we figure it out soon.
Note: This isn’t meant to be an attack on any group or nationality. Most people don’t make the conscious choice to not care about others. People think they care, they genuinely do, but sometimes they just don’t get it. I’m not saying it’s anyone’s fault. This is just a collection of my own personal observations.