Reflecting On a Need For Reflection

The discussion of violence is important. It’s important to know how violence is affecting others and ourselves. Examining the impact of violence on a global and individual scale is the only way to understand such a complex topic. War has global effects on famine, disease, displacement of refuges, but it also has individual effects — PTSD for the soldiers and refugees exposed to violence, increased risk of physical and psychological abuse for those involved. Discussing these issues make us aware of the consequences of violence. However, we must always remember that our own experiences with violence are usually limited, and that we cannot truly comprehend the effects on others of violence that we have not experienced. In fact, I think it is incredibly offensive to even pretend that we can understand violence that we have no experience with.

The media is so saturated with images of violence in society today, that I can turn on the TV at almost any time and see things like men at war overseas, people being beheaded, or women being raped. I can even decide whether I’d like to see actor’s portraying fictitious versions of those acts, or whether I’d prefer some real footage of real events. I think that this saturation tricks us into believing we know what violence is like. My professor mentioned being able to imagine what a school shooting would be like, how it would look and sound. We have certainly seen plenty of them on TV to provide fodder for such fantasies. However, I do not believe that being able to imagine an act, however vividly, equates in any way to experiencing it. Actors who’ve portrayed violence on TV certainly never pretend their acting experiences, like being raped, would make them prepared for what it would be like should they ever actually be raped. We cannot really put ourselves in another’s shoes to experience such horrors.

So, why do we pretend like seeing violence in the media makes us experts on what it must be like? It is obviously not true; we can look at our own treatment of Syrian refuges to know that. We can see the violence in Syria on TV, graphic images of exactly what these refugees are escaping, and yet people still get angry at the thought of supporting them and say they should just go home, when we can clearly see why they cannot. This false empathy is very damaging, it downplays the real emotional effect. We believe we know exactly what violence is like because we see so much of it, but we have no concept of what it feels like, and that’s the problem.

In a small class of mostly young, middle-class Canadians, who are privileged enough to be attending University, it is unlikely that anyone has experienced much, if any, significant acts of violence. To try to have open discussions about violence with such a group, then, is both foolish and flirting with disaster. I worry that allowing people to speak with such imagined authority on things, without correction or reflection, will only cement their ideas as correct in their minds. In an age where everyone is focused on being politically correct, and ‘checking your privilege’ when it comes to issues of gender inequality and racism, I found people’s attitudes towards violence appallingly laidback.

I came out of this semester genuinely concerned for the future. It was incredibly disheartening to hear future teachers, with the certainty that only comes from the young and uninformed, say things like, “boys are just naturally more aggressive, and that’s why we need to give them aggressive outlets, because girls just aren’t like that.” This is a sweeping generalization, offensively inaccurate, and a slap in the face to the work being done to show just the opposite. Even more upsetting was hearing future social workers say, when speaking about rape, things like “but it’s just not fair to get a guy turned on and not follow through, it hurts, it’s too hard for them to stop.” I cannot describe the disgust I felt hearing that said aloud in this day and age, especially by a woman. I will admit that I cried after class more than once from hearing the offensive ignorance being spouted by my classmates as concrete truths.

I must choose to believe that it is their youth and inexperience to blame for this. To expect 19 year-olds, fresh from high school and still sheltered, to possess the critical thinking skills necessary to discuss these types of serious issues, may be asking a bit much. I would never wish for them to be able to truly understand such issues, to experience real violence, but I do wish they would understand the limits of their own experiences, and the ignorance that creates. I can only hope that in their years at University they will learn to see issues from more than just their own perspectives, or, if not that, than at least to keep their ignorance quiet. Class discussions are excellent for getting participation from students, and are valuable teaching tools, I’m sure. However, I gained nothing from them other than frustration and anxiety. This experience will certainly stay with me as I finish my schooling, and going forward I will always try to remember to acknowledge my own ignorance regarding things that I am lucky enough to not possibly understand.

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