Desensitization through statistics

Wednesday, October 7, 2020 - 1:37am

NOSELL

Photo by Marcus Spiske via Unsplash

We live in a country where, with even a bare amount of effort exerted, access to information regarding a million different issues is readily obtainable. That doesn’t necessitate that any of such information is true, or that subject matters are covered with the attention they deserve. The information — authentic or fake, specific or vague — is readily accessible for the majority of us. We are used to continually having numbers, statistics, estimates poured into our ears. While it is crucial to be aware of current events and their impacts, it is purposeless if you are not able to understand and empathize with what the current events mean. And that is exactly the problem we are facing with each generation, each progressively less able to comprehend the severity of these issues. 

We are becoming an increasingly desensitized society. We are unable to put intense situations into perspective. Part of it is simple, human nature. The disparity between 10,000 and 11,000 lives lost is not something we are able to process instantaneously, especially when we are flooded with the news of death every day; it floats over our heads. Many of us do not really feel an elevated sense of despair when we hear the number of malnourished children in Yemen could increase from 2.2 million to 2.4 million by the end of this year. What does two million mean? The majority of us have not been exposed to this immense of a number, making it unimaginable to visualize its scope in global and historical situations. Wislawa Szymborska, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, elaborates on the concept of counting the dead: “history counts its skeletons in round numbers. A thousand and one remains a thousand, as though the one had never existed.”

If we are unable to truly comprehend damage, it becomes impossible to understand the severity of the events we are experiencing globally. We get accustomed to listening to large, hollow numbers and our ability to empathize with others diminishes. We derogate from the actual loss of human lives. 

This mindset is actively reflected in our society today. Whether or not you agree teenagers and children should have access to violent games is a separate conversation. But the fact of the matter is that many popular games give exposure to graphic events like decapitation, headshots, murder and rape. These exposures have a hand in desensitizing children to the weight of violence. If a 13-year-old spends an hour a day working on their headshot capabilities in Call of Duty, it is inevitably harder for them to be moved when a similar situation reaches the headlines. 

We need to start looking at the numbers — even the very small ones — and take a minute to stop and digest. Take a minute to think about if the person who got shot was someone you loved, if the rape victim was a member of your family, if the person who got run down by a car was your best friend, if the victim of suicide was someone you personally knew. They are incredibly uncomfortable situations to willingly put yourself in, but nothing is worth sacrificing what makes you human and what gives you the ability to empathize. If we make contextualizing these tragedies a habit, it can become easier to understand the devastation behind global events. I don’t think I can ever understand what 10,000 deaths means. I honestly have tried; I sit idle and reflect on what that number looks like. But I can’t seem to wrap my mind around its magnitude. But making an honest attempt counts for something, paving the way to becoming more aware of the impact statistics have beyond their place in a news article. We need to focus on what makes us human: a sense of shared mortality, loss, a unity that goes beyond the limits of race, religion or nationality. Being bombarded by numbers that continue to desensitize us is what makes calamity seem trivialized, a mentality that goes against our humanity: a calamity in and of itself.