Finding Humanity in Human Suffering
In my reading of the two texts we are addressing in this unit of our Humes course, I initially found only one similarity between the views presented by Gourevitch and Sontag – both depictions of human suffering and our reactions to it were strikingly painful to read. As I read further into these texts, my understanding of the views presented by the authors grew, and I began to contemplate the initial reaction I felt in response to texts that cover very different materials but explore common themes. Why was it difficult for me to read these texts without feeling sadness afterward? In my meditation on this question, I discovered that this question evokes the subjects being explored by Gourevitch and Sontag – human reactions to suffering felt by others with whom they can identify, as well as the pervasive dehumanization found in situations of genocide and warfare. While Gourevitch discusses a specific instance of this dehumanization and suffering, with the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda, Sontag explores this psychological contrast within the context of a variety of instances throughout history. Despite these differences in scope, the two texts are similar in their subject, as well as the choices they make in approaching the struggles of the human condition – the incredible capacity for empathy as well as the violent effects of dehumanization to “others.”
This remarkable capacity for dehumanization or creation of empathy through literary description has been explored throughout the Humanities course. Although this has given me further opportunity to consider the concept as well as my own vulnerability to its impacts, I have yet to fully comprehend the psychological implications or uses of this tactic or their impacts on my personal life. In our reading of “March: Volume 2” by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell, and Chris Ross, I was struck by the usage of a graphic novel in order to humanize the people portrayed. Through this medium, as opposed to a textbook account or even a transcript of Lewis’s recollections, the human characteristics of those involved in the Civil Rights Movement become the focus of the audience, rather than an afterthought. Personally, I was shocked to consider the roles of the many young adults involved in the movement and to compare their ages to my own. The undeniable humanity of the characters forces perspective upon the audience, demanding self-reflection. Would I have been brave enough to speak up? Would I have remained silent as the rights of those around me were denied?