jAlmost every morning as soon as I wake up, I pick up my phone and check Facebook. For better or worse, it’s become my window into the world in a lot of ways, whether to see news of a friend’s engagement, the political gaffe of the moment, or reports on the crisis in Syria. When I opened it up on Thursday morning to find a video of a small child, his face caked with blood and dust, being pulled out a pile of rubble in Aleppo, I wasn’t surprised, exactly. This kind of coverage has become, if not commonplace, familiar enough to evoke more weariness than shock. I looked at the comments below the post of this video and saw the expected expressions of outrage, grief, heartbreak. Then the last one: “I can’t watch…”

I can’t watch.

At first this made me angry. Well, yeah, I thought, you don’t have to watch. You can just pretend this awful thing isn’t happening and go on with your normal life. This kid doesn’t have that privilege. Neither do his parents, if they’re even still alive. Then I realized I was watching, but I would go on with my day and likely forget about what I had seen. By the end of the week the image would probably disappear from my head for the rest of my life, unless it comes up in the news again or becomes the kind of iconic picture that never really leaves the public imagination. What good does my watching do?

This is the perpetual ethical dilemma of the 21st century: we see so much suffering, hear so many scary stories from so far away, read about every horrible situation the world over…and we tire of it. We even have a term for it, one that has been repeated so much it almost turns in on itself: compassion fatigue. We’re tired of feeling, tired of caring—which really means we’re tired of connecting. Where do we go from here? “I can’t watch,” or perhaps, “I’ll watch, but I can’t care too much for too long if I’m going to continue to function.”

What’s the alternative? Whenever my mind runs over difficult questions like this, it usually lands on, or at least near, some example from Jesus’ life. This is exactly the kind of ethical dilemma I can imagine someone presenting to Jesus: “There are millions of suffering people in the world—right this moment, look at Syria, Louisiana, Venezuela. You even said, ‘The poor will always be with you.’ How much good can I realistically do in the face of all this tragedy and disaster?”

I can’t imagine that Jesus would respond to this question with a definitive answer. Instead, he might tell a story, or simply do something that points to his thoughts on the subject. Jesus wasn’t much of a straight shooter (except when he was, but that’s for another time and really just adds to his complexity).

I don’t know what Jesus would say, but I do know what he did: he saw people. Let me be clear: he didn’t watch people, he saw people. Many if not all of them were suffering, some from physical illness like leprosy, hemorrhaging, or blindness; others from harder to diagnose conditions like demons or greed or hatred. He was almost constantly surrounded by throngs of people in need, people demanding help or healing or at the very least attention from him. And he gave it to them. Not all of them, but as many as he could. Then he left to pray. Then he came back and did it all over again.

This is not an easy life, to be sure. Seeing people as people takes effort, more effort than watching (or not watching) them from afar. It requires a level of care and attention I usually reserve for myself and sometimes for the people closest to me. But as Jesus knew, the only way we can be fully human ourselves is to recognize the humanity in others.

So what about that little boy in Syria? Or the homeless families in Baton Rouge? Or the hungry people in Venezuela? I don’t know if or how each one of us can help each one of them. That’s a hard thing for me to say, but it’s the truth. What I do know is this: every one of those people we see on Facebook and the news and the paper, just like everyone on our block and in our office and at the grocery store, is as much a human as we are. If we stop looking away, stop watching, and start seeing, then we might get one step closer to the kingdom of God.

*Sarah Pinson works in community health and economic development in Charleston, South Carolina. She received her Master of Divinity degree from Vanderbilt University, where she focused on the intersection of food, faith, and ethics.