Numbness to Violence

This is the second in a series of letters I am writing for one of my gender studies’ courses, which I wrote in response to Mother Tongue by Demetria Martinez:

Dear Jose Luis Junior,

At times, I find myself inspired by your newfound passion and dedication to activism in El Salvador.  As you grew older, you transformed from an apathetic teenager to an educated man.  Perhaps you needed to fully immerse yourself in your past to understand your present and future.  Hearing about inequality and violence or seeing it on a television screen is not the same as having conversations with survivors, traveling through the affected communities, and witnessing how much devastation has occurred.  Unable to look away, you were forced to confront reality.

Although I was moved by your experiences, I was often saddened by your words.  When looking through the photographs of dead bodies, your emotions are conflicting; you want to look away, but need to focus in order to find the picture of your father.  “You just have to go numb sometimes.  You have to look at the bodies as if you were watching television” (Martinez 182).

How have we allowed ourselves to become so accustomed to violence and suffering?  How can we look at these images and hear these stories without being overwhelmed with horror, grief, and despair?  Violence has become so ingrained in our lives that its existence no longer elicits the emotional responses one would expect.  We can watch the news without bursting into tears, simulate war on our video gaming systems, and watch “entertainment” films which glorify violence.  This feeling of numbness which you describe is terrifying, yet completely reflective of how society has come to view and deal with violence.

In thinking about this conundrum, I find myself wondering how our world would be different if this numbness did not exist.  My initial thoughts lead me to believe that this is not only idealistic, but impossible.  In my utopian vision, a world without numbness would ultimately lead to a world without violence, but I worry that we are too far gone.  We cannot turn back time nor ignore the roles that Western imperialism, capitalism, patriarchy, racism, and more play in shaping the modern world.  Unequal power dynamics are inherent in these systems, which ultimately leads to exploitation, inequality, and violence.

However, this does not mean that we cannot combat these forces.  Your story highlights how and why activism has the potential to make a difference.  Seemingly small, insignificant gestures, like locating the photograph of your father, are life-changing, even life-saving.  Individual changes will ultimately impact larger groups and communities, hopefully leading to a world with less violence and less numbness.  Your story is a perfect example.  Your experiences in El Salvador opened you up to a new world.  The individual change that occurred within you allowed you to see and act differently.  Your decision to spend your summer volunteering in El Salvador will help all those around you, as your help them move forward into a better life.  You are just beginning on an endless journey of self-discovery; your life “has taken off in another direction” (Martinez 189).  Regardless of where life takes you, one thing is certain: you now have the foundation you need to make a difference and the possibilities are endless.

Sincerely,

Michelle

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