In a pinch, I could probably still do it -- clamp down on the emotions that might arise in some human tragedy with an eye to aiding or assessing those in need. This is one of the tools a reporter might use and I have been a reporter. It is also one of the tools anyone might use -- in the midst of a situation that requires assistance, emotional outbursts are a fair hindrance. Save the hand-wringing and horror for later; keep things in perspective, just the facts, ma'am.
This technique is useful in its time (writing a story, finding and applying necessary aid), and it is also a great way of keeping a studied distance from life -- a way of staying in an imagined control. Applied without limit, it shuts down a piece of the human scene. In the same way that hand-wringing doesn't do much good, sidestepping that out-of-control hand-wringing is deadening.
I got to thinking about this while watching one of those gimpy World War II documentaries on TV yesterday. Sometimes I think that those tasked with doing history shows take the easiest possible route -- "Hey, Harry -- let's do World War II again ... focus on the Nazis, get in the obligatory Holocaust footage and bombs dropping from Lancasters and ... well, you know, the usual stuff." And it works. Cut and paste and, voila, another hour-long slot is filled and a certain audience is guaranteed. How horrible! Over and over again. But the good guys won, so it's OK.
But watching the show yesterday, I could not distance myself from it. Where once it was a rootin'-tootin'-shootin' tableau of effort and success, now all I could think was that without a cause, without the flags whipping in the breeze, without patriotism force-fed to those who were asked to do the fighting ... where would any of it be? These were people, for Christ's sake! Their beliefs swayed them this way and that, but they had smiles and children and ... well, they were human. Greed was a possibility, self-importance was a possibility ... but they were just human and no one ever told them in convincing terms that the study of the self is the only sensible course. Ignorance is expensive stuff. Heart-rending and stupid and sadder than sad. Winning and losing is for losers, I thought, but how in heaven's name can you tell anyone that? I don't know.
Well, it was just interesting to notice that what once had been a cool and collected approach, now I was touched by the humanity of it all. Maybe that's the price you pay for being an old fart ... although there seem to be a lot of old farts still running around with American-flag lapel pins.