For this assignment, Professor Tamura asked us to find a current event and write a poem about it. We had just read Susan Sontag’s “Regarding the Pain of Others,” which talks about our role as consumers of media that bombards us with horrifying images of trauma and suffering: how is our perception of reality influenced by these images? What are the limits of empathy and compassion? Sontag examines how trauma and suffering are portrayed in the media and how we as viewers, outsiders of the suffering, absorb and understand this information.
The biggest takeaway I took from this text was that eventually, we become desensitized to suffering, to the point where a mass shooting with 5 deaths is “just another shooting.” I was simultaneously horrified and interested by this realization as I considered how this phenomenon played out in my own life. Sontag talks about how as viewers distanced from this violence and suffering, we have the ability to avert our gaze when the images are too disturbing, when they make us uncomfortable. I’ve realized that sitting with our discomfort and not looking away when “it’s too much” is how we can move from sympathy to empathy. I used to think that feeling overwhelmed to the point where I would turn off the news was a sign of empathy, but now I understand that it’s just my privilege allowing me to walk away.
The headline of the article was: Terrorist Shooting in the Capital of Austria
Sontag says we are desensitized to suffering— Another day, another death. Is it true? Read the news, they say. It’s your civic duty, they say. So I look, I sigh, I move on. But… They won’t. Their families won’t. And tomorrow the cycle will repeat itself, endlessly churning into oblivion. So I ask, who are we to choose whose lives are worth our tears?