2016 Syrian Crisis:
7.6 million internally displaced
4.3 million refugees
23 million in need of urgent humanitarian assistance
The world knew of these statistics. And yet, almost no one moved a finger.
Days, weeks, months passed by and these numbers only continued to grow.
After the extermination of nearly 6 million Jews by the Nazis, we said “never again.” Yet, here we are again. And sadly, this is not the first atrocity since the holocaust 70 plus years ago, but one of many.
With hundreds of thousands of innocent people dying, starving, being forced into child slavery, and millions more being raped or displaced from their homes, why has nothing changed?
Maybe because these statistics don’t mean anything to the average person. In fact, I can guess that you skimmed over the first few lines of “meaningless” numbers at the beginning of this post. Don’t be embarrassed, I most-likely would have done the same.
The problem is not that we lack information on the magnitude of the Syrian crisis and so many others like it. The problem is that we lack empathy towards what is happening and who it is happening to because we can’t possibly comprehend something of such evil and horror.
However, something changed and a spark was ignited when this photo surfaced on the media:
Suddenly, everyone cared about the Syrian refugee crisis. People shouted, rallied, donated. There was a demand to take action to prevent this from being another child’s horrendous destiny.
Why all this effort and action over one boy when thousands had passed before him in attempt to cross the ocean? Because we finally put a face to the issue. A human we could identify with, relate to, care for.
This goes to show that a picture truly is worth a thousand words… or in this case, a thousand statistics.
Paul Slovic eloquently explains, “Confronted with knowledge of dozens of apparently random disasters each day, what can a human heart do but slam its doors? No mortal can grieve that much. We didn’t evolve to cope with tragedy on a global scale. Our defense is to pretend there’s no thread of event that connects us, and that those lives are somehow not precious sand real like our own. It’s a practical strategy, to some ends, but the loss of empathy is also the loss of humanity, and that’s no small trade off.”
“Art is the antidote that can call us back from the edge of numbness, restoring the ability to feel for another”
– Paul Slovic
It is shameful to think that we can ignore mass killings sometimes without the slightest feeling of compassion or empathy, but that the face of a single child would compel an entire nation to go to such great extents.
May this be a lesson to us all. The next time we come across another statistic about a far-away nation in turmoil, may we not just glance over it or say to ourselves “how sad,” and keeping scrolling through our Facebook newsfeeds. No. Let us be a nation that does not disconnect or desensitize ourselves from people being horribly mistreated and dehumanized.
Picture a face to every number. An innocent 3-year old boy to every percentage. Because this is not an issue that is plaguing some aliens off in another world, but is in fact destroying the lives of people just like you and just like me the very moment you are finishing reading this.
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
– MARTIN NIEMÖLLER