Some years ago, I was working in a place known to host very violent armed groups.
All of the sudden, while standing with some of the children we were working with, we heard tree, four shots. “They killed three people, they killed three people”, some kids warned.
A little girl next to me started crying. Her mother, perhaps also afraid herself, shouted: “Why are you crying, girl, they have just shot some people, that´s all”.
Days later, I told this story to another colleague, who was from this area, and I asked him, “does these killings happen very often”?
“No”, he said, casually. “It is not that bad, it is just every month”.
I have thought of this tragedy often when I have worked in complex situations of violence and political oppression.
I have always understood the mother in this story, as also I understood my friend.
It is normal to adapt to circumstances, when madness is happening around you. Our brain normalizes these atrocities, as when our eyes try to find where is the beam of light in the darkest of nights. Our capacity to be flexible and avoid harm serves its purpose to bring us to the next safe place, while we move across danger. Our threshold for the acceptable moves as well when coping with stress. It may happen gradually or suddenly, but we become more resilient to pain, to duress, to harm.
But this adaptation comes at a high cost. We run the risk to become immune to the suffering of others. Some may say that is reasonable cost, if that keeps us alive.
But that again, is also questionable. How resistant to pain can you become before losing your humanity, your capacity for empathy and solidarity?
History is full of moments when we have failed this test.
We should never stop caring for each other, no matter how different from ourselves that “other” might be. That is the true essence of humanity.
-Alfredo Zamudio, first published on LinkedIn