With the recent, likely chemical attacks on the people of Syria in Douma by President Bashar al-Assad, I can’t help but wonder how I should respond to crises like this. Originally, I wondered if there was something clever to say that would somehow enlighten people or provide ways to cope better with such horrifying events. However, I don’t think there’s much we can do except to call it what it is: a cruel, inhumane, genocidal attack on human life. We need to validate this reality.
As a human race, we dislike pain immensely and the brain does not differentiate emotional pain from physical pain (which is also why sometimes people will experience physical pain when they are going through intense emotional pain). So we will try to comfort ourselves, distract ourselves, or placate the situation to somehow make it better.
However, as part of a generation that wants to see real, global changes in our governments, we must feel this discomfort. We must feel this pain. We must steal ourselves and face the images being moved around the internet, listen to the cries of our fellow humans, and sit in the empathetic pain we feel. Without discomfort, we will remain complacent with where we are as a human race. We need to stop numbing, looking away, and trying to make the pain any less real.
Moreover, we should feel outraged! The Geneva Conventions, as was recently tweeted by the International Red Cross, outlined that the use of chemical weapons is a war crime by International Humanitarian Law. By not abiding by these laws, President al-Asad is essentially stating that the people in Douma, or anyone that he utilizes chemical warfare against, is sub-human and that makes it okay to kill them. This is called removing someone from your circle of moral inclusion.
We are all born with mirror neurons which are what activates when we see someone yawn and then we yawn. Mirror neurons also help us to recognize another living being as human or not. This means that our mirror neurons also prevent us from killing other human beings. To kill another human being, you have to remove them from your circle of moral inclusion and thus subvert your mirror neuron biology. Thus, what happens is you essentially say, “you’re not a human so it’s okay for me to kill you.” This is why many first-person shooter video games put face masks on their characters—to make them appear less human.
This means that when you feel terrible, mortified, horrified, or whatever emotions you feel when you read about these inhumane attacks, your biology is even telling you how wrong this humanitarian crisis is. There is no reason to filter this kind of outrage. These are our fellow humans, people, individuals being slaughtered like insects with what is essentially human pesticide. We need to stand with them and allow our pain and discomfort to motivate us to help change this situation in any way we can.
Feeling pain and discomfort can be scary. But I encourage you, my readers, to feel it deeply. It cannot kill you and it will not overcome you. However, when processed and channeled appropriately, it can change the course of your life.