12 February 2012

Maintaining Empathy in a Persistent Conflict

Because of the daily talk of clashes between security forces and the Egyptian people in the news, it can be incredibly difficult to maintain the notion that this is not a "normal" thing.

When a place turns into a war zone, it is almost impossible to contextualize that, on a normal day, people live, work and play on those streets. 

I do not think this is any fault of our own, really. 

Most of us have never experienced anything close to a war zone anywhere, let alone one in our own backyard. Try to imagine a battlefield with tanks and heavy artillery right now outside your home. Can you do it? I sure can't.

Compounding this factor is the reality that our sole frame of reference for many of the areas covered in news broadcasts is as places of turmoil. Unless we have had the opportunity to visit that particular place in the past, then there are no memories to draw on with which to juxtapose the tumultuous images presented to us now[1].

For its part, television has done a wonderful job of attempting to alleviate these problems by bringing us closer to events happening across the world and providing us images and first-hand accounts that print never could. Breaking stories coupled with live video footage illicit an emotional response unrivaled in any other news medium.

But while a single event can truly captivate the world for a time--say, 18 days--the unfortunate truth of television remains. The more an event is broadcast—i.e. the less "new" it becomes—the more removed we become from it.

As vivid as television can be, it cannot manufacture persistent empathy.

So then what can we do to keep the humanity of a situation from slipping away? Is there a way to ward off this apathy that seems to simply come with time?

I don’t have a definitive answer, as much as I’d like to.

I have fallen victim to desensitization on many occasions, the current Egyptian conflict included. Despite the fact that I lived literally around the corner from the Ministry of Interior in Cairo—where many Egyptians have been killed in the last year—there have been several instances when I have lost inclination to keep myself informed and allowed myself to stop caring.

On all of these occasions, what I find pulls me back into the realm of compassion and humanity is the frustration that builds from the prevalence of one-dimensional, over-generalized, often-prejudiced portrayals of the people caught in these complex situations.

While my initial response to the frustration is often along the far-fetched lines of "ridding the world" of the ignorance that the flagrant inaccuracies and misunderstandings often foment, reality usually settles in pretty quickly.

Instead I find that breeding a sense of familiarity with the situation for friends, family and acquaintances by sharing a first-hand experience unrelated to the current conflict goes a long way towards re-humanizing the situation.

Thus, with this blog I hope to expand the breadth of my reach in creating that sense of familiarity and making the situation in Egypt as relatable as possible on a basic human level.

[1] This, I believe, is a big reason many people consider certain places in the world inherently dangerous.

No comments:

Post a Comment