• Posted: Mar 12, 2016 18:47:00
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About this time two years ago, I sat down with a friend at a restaurant I’d never been to before. Our waitress was polite and efficient, but said little, never smiled, and never made eye contact. She was similarly dour with other patrons. Though one regular, with effort, did get a sheepish grin out of her, once. I couldn’t help noticing the discoloring on her face. Bruises? Scars? Birth marks? I couldn’t tell for sure. But it appeared to me she had healing bruises on her left forehead and around her right eye. She also had a scar above her upper lip, swelling of her right lower lip, and several older scars on her right cheek. A battered woman on the mend? Again, I couldn’t tell for sure. But the signs were there for anyone to observe. Surreptitiously, I took her photograph. The camera was not hidden. She saw it. She said nothing.
Perhaps the ethics of making such a photograph are debatable. But in a way, all photographs are exploitations. What matters in the end, I think, is what use is made of them. In this instance, I have chosen to use it to make concrete the undeniable reality that many many citizens among us endure sometimes brutal injustice while the rest of us barely take notice. No, I do not think this lady, given her withdrawn demeanor, would choose to be pictured as an example of possible domestic abuse. But the evidence on her face is that she is very much powerless to stand up in her own defense. We, we are her community. We must stand beside her. We must say no, this is not right, not justified, not acceptable. No one in our community should be subject to scarring abuse. No one. Not for any reason, never.
Yes, unspeakable atrocities are being inflicted upon the less powerful every single day across the entire globe. But this is our world, our home, our community. Abuse in every form must stop. If must stop here. It must stop now. It must stop and never be allowed to grow and fester ever again. And it is we, we who must step forward, stand together, and say NO MORE.
Whatever the risk, whatever the cost, there is nothing more important. Stand up. Stand with us. Act, speak, write, and photograph against abuse in any and all its ugly, debilitating, scarring, traumatizing forms. This is our world. We will not stand for it, ignore it, or acquiesce to it anymore. Not for any reason, ever again.
Strong words, you may say. All well and good. But, on the other hand, perhaps this lady knows very well what discomfort her appearance in public may cause, and is saying loudly, without uttering a word, “Yes, look at me, you cowardly complicit bastard. Look at the consequence of your self-serving complacent inaction. I hope you choke on the food you ordered.”
People are complicated creatures. It may be that for some of us, looking at the lady’s possibly bruised face brings on considerable discomfort. It certainly did for me. But is that discomfort stimulus enough to empathize with her and act with compassion? Or, might it be reason to distance one’s self and dehumanize the lady as lacking something that would otherwise allow her to stand up for herself and avoid threat to her body and person?
There was a study reviewed recently in Science Daily that suggests people choose how they react to someone who has been victimized based on their expectations of emotional reward or exhaustion. In other words, if the social context, i.e. other responding people, knowledge of a sympathetic back story, or whatever, suggests helping will be both effective and rewarding, people will choose to empathize and help. However, if the social context suggests help will prove both futile and exhausting, people will choose to dehumanize the victim and walk away. The original study led by Daryl Cameron of the University of Iowa appeared in the February 2016 issue of Social Psychology and Personality Science. And notably, the researchers’ conclusions were drawn from a sample size of several hundred, not just 20 or 30 college students.
What that study suggests is that stepping forward and taking a stand against abuse can, in deed, have positive personally rewarding consequences, just due to the example being set for others to follow. And, conversely, not acting and saying nothing can just as easily compound into mass social apathy, with huge consequence for the cohesion of our entire society.
We, as a people, enjoy and celebrate our hero’s. Be one. Stand up, step forward, and act against abuse. It feels good. It does good.
Thursday, March 20th, 2014
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