When someone dies who had an impact on us — a beloved entertainer from our childhood, for example — we are sad, even though we don’t know the figure personally. But why should that be?
There is no doubt that there is an emotional reaction to the news of someone’s death. For people we know and interact with, that is understandable. That person’s place in our life is missing.
However, we also feel sadness for some we have never met. For instance, a musician who sang a particularly meaningful song, or an author who wrote a touchstone book.
But why? The meaningful part — the song, say, or the book — still exist. They are not being erased from the public consciousness, and in fact may gain some awareness from the creator’s death.
Is it that the person will no longer be creating anything that might move you similarly? Chances are, unless you are a completist, there is music from that artist you have never heard, or books by that author you have never read. There is still new material — new to you, that is — to be discovered.
Perhaps it is general empathy. We are sad to hear of someone’s death. A life with value has come to an end, which is a cause for mourning.
And yet, people with value die every minute of every day. With eight billion people on the planet, we cannot mourn the passing of each and every one — we would live in a constant tsunami of sadness.
So why, then, are we affected by these individual deaths? Why are we not happy that the person existed in the first place, and created such impactful works of art? Why not take joy that our world can produce such people, who in turn create such meaning?
There is no doubt that we are saddened by the news of these passings. It seems obvious that the feelings exist. But is there a reason why? Why do we feel sad when someone we don’t know dies?