Publisher’s Note: Is tragedy relative?

By on January 9, 2013

Last Thursday, Jan. 3, I attended an annual charitable luncheon given by Lynn Friess. This year she invited Smokey Rhea, executive director of the Community Resource Center, to speak a bit about the Center and the challenges it faces as a crisis center and a nonprofit that relies on fundraising. CRC temporarily assists locals with items like rent, utilities, and life skills. It does not receive state or federal money.

Rhea relayed heart-wrenching stories of local people facing terminal health issues and misfortune and CRC’s constant struggle to raise enough funds to support them.

Meanwhile, back at the office, reporter Jake Nichols was breaking the story about three local adventurers who were allegedly assaulted and robbed by Peruviuan villagers while on vacation. I’m sure you’ve read about it. Since Thursday, the story of the Americans vs. Village People has drawn international media attention and has sparked a divisive response from readers across the world. Friends, family and politicians rallied sympathy and financial support while skeptics called the story a fabrication.

Some commenters at were appalled that the trio has benefitted from an online fundraising site to recoup the nearly $30,000 in stolen or damaged gear, computer equipment, cameras and more. Despite criticism, in less than two days the site had raised approximately $20,000.

I believe the tourists’ story and I believe it was brutal (I also believe they made some errors while traveling in rural Peru that may have led to the mishap,) but what really stands out, is the contrast between these two stories of local people in need that came about on the same day.

It’s interesting that the traumatized climbers and their stolen climbing gear, computers and cameras can elicit more pathos and fundraising power than a local single mother of two who has been diagnosed with stage-4 colon cancer and must quit her crappy hourly job because she’s going to die. How is it that the upper middle class vacationers, who had a horrible misadventure, outdo in sympathy and support the real tragedies right here in front of our faces, in Jackson Hole?

Is death, poverty, mental illness, physical abuse and homelessness just not as sexy as getting your gear ripped off?

Reader Comments
Bingo, nail on the head, Mary. Ordinary “rabble” just ain’t cool enough no matter the misfortune.
Anonyholic II

what a well articulated commentary! could not agree with your words more strongly!

To answer the question, tragedy isn’t relative; charity is. It is well-documented that people tend to give more to those they know personally. However, Mary fails to mention the generosity of this community in general. Old Bill’s Fun Run has raised millions of dollars; much of which goes to the various human service agencies in Teton County. Even in a recession, people donated to Old Bill’s in record numbers. It’s one of the many reasons I’m proud to live here.
Just me

Just Me, yes you’re right this is a great town – but I bet if you look at what organizations people give most to, it’s the activity or arts oriented groups, like the Ski Club and other cultural groups. And just to note, CRC is barely getting along according to Smokey. And if not for a generous last minute gift in Dec, they would have had to delve into their emergency funds they hoped they would never have to touch. Had it not been for this gift, they would have closed their doors. Old Bill’s did not come to the rescue.

The three amigos were the perfect recipient of Jackson’s largesse. Young and fit fully capable of helping themselves. Heaven forbid that there would be walking reminders of life’s adversities in the streets of Jackson. So much more comfortable to empathize with young, fit adventurers who stumbled into trouble. Jackson is Shagra La except that the less than beautiful people are given one way tickets to someplace far away. In Jackson life boats are reserved for the privileged.

I don’t understand what is wrong with helping our friends get home safely after a traumatic experience. Whether you like it or not, Jackson has a large young and fit traveling population. Their appearance has nothing to do with their support. It has everything to do with friends helping friends and understanding that this incident isn’t “sexy” or just “getting gear ripped off”, but something that is not only monetarily but also physically and mentally damaging. Their friends wanted them home safe and wanted to support the only way they could from far away. I find it sick that I’m defending compassion. I understand you feel frustrated that your causes are not getting the funding they need, but I find your words to be unsympathetic, ignorant, and disheartening. You clearly do not know these people, and it is not your place to condemn the aid that their friends and family have provided.

Just wondering how your friends are doing. Have they found their way home? are their injuries healing?. Teeth repaired ? Or is it not my place to wonder and ask.

This editorial is shocking to me. I don’t know Jennifer, but I feel for her. In a small town like Jackson, you would think that support for any tragedy would be readily available. You have taken two very different different tragedies and compared them, while managing to put down one of our community members who is dealing with an unimaginable ordeal right now. Put yourself in the young woman’s place — she is beat up, goes through mental hell, loses her personal possessions and is miles away from her home. But she has to come back to a small community who is going to criticize her for accepting help from her friends? “Is death, poverty, mental illness, physical abuse and homelessness just not as sexy as getting your gear ripped off? ” … They almost died. They will absolutely suffer some mental repercussions from this ordeal. Physical abuse? Sounds like something you wouldn’t want to put yourself through. Shame on you for simplifying it, mocking it and for criticizing those who ran to their side to help. I’m embarrassed by this article.
Maddie M

Wow, Mary. You totally missed my point. People tend to give more to those they know personally. If I had any connection to those three kids, I might give to them too. Just like I’ve donated to people I know who have suffered from cancer, car accidents, and any other tragedy. I like to know where my money is going, and I like to feel like I’m helping. I feel badly that people are so angry that these kids have received help. Now about your point about CRC needing funding: they’re a non-profit charity. They will always need funding. It’s Smokey’s job to raise money. There will never be a day when she goes to donors and says, “we have all we need, thanks”. CRC is also part of a greater Human Services Planning Council made up of agencies serving all sorts of people who need help. They do great work. They, too, will always need funding. Instead of slam a group of naive kids, why don’t you do a piece on the human services here?
Just me

The CRC is faced with the task of choosing where to allocate limited funds. Who needs more help? The single mother needing food and clothes for her children, or a local choosing between medical bills and food. We generously helped a few friends we thought were in serious trouble recently. There shouldn’t be any fault in that but now that we know they’re ok lets help the CRC help our neighbors.

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