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Why Paris?
Why Paris?
As with every other major catastrophy, expressions on the Internet has been split in three. There are the ones who wave the French flag, there are the ones who criticize the people who wave the French flag, and there are the ones who stay quiet.

The critics ask the question, "why do you show solidarity with France and not with Syria, Lebanon, Kenya, etc?" And people who seem to "understand" that the issue is mass media have ignored human nature in favour of political correctness.

Some seem to have a problem with human nature, because they would prefer justice. There is, however, something to be said for emotions as well. So let me explain.

Emotional response

Something happens. This event has a meaning to you. This meaning gives you an emotion. From the emotion, you make a decision. For example, you feel an urge to show your emotion by putting a French flag on your Facebook profile.

So let us first have a look at the first step within our minds - the meaning.

Some things mean more to us than others. You may argue that Paris should not mean more to us than Accra, but it does, ther are both locations on this planet, and people live there. No place or people are worth more than others. But this is now how the human mind works - and there is a good reason.

The more ties you have to something or someone, the more meaning they have to you. So you will have really strong bonds to your mother, but have absolutely no bonds to an unknown person on the other side of the globe. The same goes for places. I have bicycled through those very street, I have interacted with people on those very streets in a trip that I consider a pilgrimage, hence these streets mean a lot to me. Your world map of meaning will look different from mine. Not because we are bad people, but out of necessity.

Two people die every second. Feeling and expressing grief for every person who dies is not just impractical, it is impossible to live up to. You have to function every day. So your grief is limited to that which carries more meaning to you. The more meaning - that is, the more bonds you have to the person, item or place - the stronger the emotion.

Because the opposite would also be bad. Emotions is what keeps us from destroying other people to achieve our personal goals. Emotions, sense of loss, empathy for other people's suffering is the basis of our morality. To not have emotions at all has a diagnosis.

So why Paris?

At 83 million visitors a year, France has the greatest amount of visiting tourist in the world. The greatest attraction is Paris. So literally the entire world has emotional bonds to Paris. This is why so many people in the world have an emotional reaction to something happening in Paris, and so few people respond to something happening in Kilis. Most people in the world have no reference to Kilis at all.

So it is because France is a western country. It is because of Paris having a special status in the hearts of everyone. Indeed, it is probably the city that has a meaning to the most people in the world.

Paris vs Cairo

This is a direct example of how two places have different amounts of meaning:

Cairo: Someone I know lived there for a while. Someone I have exchanged a few written words with lives there. Some history and geography books have told me about the place.

Paris: I have been there. I have bicycled those very streets. I know how they feel. I know how they smell. I know extensively how they look. I have enjoyed "taking it all in". I have greeted people there, they have greeted back. I have interacted with people and felt a human connection. I have experienced people there who care about my well being and wished me well. I have observed life there and contemplated human interactions.

In short, there are many connections between Paris and my own experiences and senses. In comparison, there are no such direct connections between Cairo and my own experiences and senses. Therefore, it is natural that my emotional reaction is greater with Paris than with Cairo.

I am not going to reveal an extensive list of which places that matter to me, but they are not limited to the "western world". What connections I have will be different from what connections another person has. It might be four years since I was in Paris, but it still FEELS like yesterday, because that memory is so precious. Similarly, not all places in the "west" have such meaning to me.

I did not have the same emotional reaction to NYC 9/11 - but I would be devastated if it happened to Toronto.

The right to expression

"Should we pray for Paris?"
"This is why you should not put the French flag on your profile."
"Should we show solidarity with Paris?"

The headlines and discussions go on and on. Critics claim that praying, lighting candles, displaying any form of solidarity with France and not Russia is a decision. That if light a candle for one, we must light a candle for the other, no exceptions, because no life is worth more than another. (Except, some of these critics point out, members of the terror group in question, they should die.)

For most people this is an expression of emotion. It is not a cold hearted, calculated, thought out strategy. And maybe a lot of people need to be shaken to wake up to the fact that in some parts of the world, people have to live with this all the time. That we need to put more focus on that.

You can not argue with someone having an emotion and expressing that emotion. It is part of being human. When you argue against emotional expression, you are arguing against their right to being a human.

By arguing that people should not express their emotions, you are arguing that they should lock their feelings up and be someone on the outside than they are on the inside. You are arguing that expressing your emotions is a politically incorrect.

When the expression of grief becomes a Bad Thing, you tell people that they are bad people for having emotions. Isn't that the opposite of what you wanted to accomplish?

But France is not innocent?

True, but irrelevant in this context.

On 9/11, some were saying that America lost its innocense that day. We all know this is not true. And we all know that France has done horrible things as well. Not the people at large, but events orchestrated by their governments. That, however, is not an argument against people's rights to have an emotional response to an event. It is not an argument against people's rights to express their emotions.

You may argue that political decisions should not be based on emotions. Yes and yes. People expressing their emotions is not a political decision. It is being true to themselves. It is about being human. That said, political decisions should take human emotions into consideration.

Can we increase human awareness of suffering?

Understanding how our emotions are ruled by the number of ties we have to a place or a people, proponents of "pray for everyone, not just Paris" may find it tempting to find methods of increasing the number of ties people have around the world.

As humans, we do have limited capacity, we would spread ourselves too thin, we would long to go everywhere, we would have too short lives. Our lives are already too short.

The closest we get to achieving such world awareness is to regularly consider the world and promoting your own love for the planet and everyone who lives on it. A lot of people are already doing it. And what these people have in common, is an understanding that this is not about west vs east. It is not about ISIS vs France. It is about those who make people suffer vs those who suffer. It is about people wielding guns against innocent unarmed families who just want to live a peaceful life.

It is not really the suffering we need to be aware of. I believe we are already well aware of the suffering in the world, there's so much of it. What we need to become aware of is how to relieve suffering. Let's focus on that.

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