I don’t normally feel compelled to express my opinions in a public forum on politics or religion or world crises.
I feel comfortable saying what I think in open dialogue with friends and family but the Internet can be a frightening abyss of misunderstandings and misinterpretations.
However, writing has always been the way I try to comprehend what’s happening in the world around me. It’s as though I discover my own thinking as I let the words unfurl from my fingers.
In light of yesterday’s horrific tragedy in Paris I have felt especially pulled to write out my thoughts as my emotions have been very mixed.
I was taught that two of the main cruxes of journalism are to always tell the truth and to remain unbiased. I understand why the latter is important, however I always had trouble fully agreeing with it. As humans we are composed of experiences and thoughts and feelings that are unique to each of us. How can we not be biased in our opinions on any given subject based on our distinct set of life events? I think bias and the mere-exposure effect always sneaks in slyly. That’s why an opinion belongs exclusively to us as individuals.
The mere-exposure effect is especially something that I can’t stop thinking about as I scroll through Facebook and Instagram this morning.
The mere-exposure effect is a psychological phenomenon by which people tend to develop a preference for things merely because they are familiar with them. In social psychology, this effect is sometimes called the familiarity principle.
Paris has long been one of the most romanticized places in the world (The City of Love!), which is part of what makes such a crime of hate (the opposite end of the spectrum) even more sickening.
Through the media, movies, novels, magazines etc. we feel a familiarity with Paris, even if you’ve never traveled there. It is far easier to imagine what the people are like, their day-to-day, what they eat, how they live, based on all of the unconscious and conscious stimuli we’ve been exposed to.
It is far more difficult for us to imagine what it’s like day-to-day in other places that aren’t as well represented through mere-exposure, such as Iraq or Syria or Russia. The majority of our visual experience of these places is depicted through war-torn reports and photographs. There is a subtle negative undertone; the bad highlighted more often than the good.
I have a very vivid memory of someone that I know who grew up in Syria, explaining to me what his neighborhood was like. It looked similar to the suburbs of Toronto (Oakville, where I grew up) in most respects with trees, lots of kids running around, big backyards, people walking dogs etc. The only difference today is that his has been destroyed, while my childhood home remains untouched. It’s an unfair cruelty that my heart can’t even fathom. His simple explanation of his upbringing has stuck with me ever since.
Last week, all 224 Russian (and Ukrainian) passengers and crew died in a plane crash in Egypt, also likely caused by ISIS affiliates. That’s double the amount killed from yesterday’s vicious attack. Upwards of 170,000 people have said to have been killed by ISIS in Syria and Iraq and that’s only what’s been documented.
I don’t know if it’s because humans are such visual creatures and the way the media has portrayed places like Syria and Iraq recently that it’s harder to imagine that they too are just like us. I can’t help but think the mere-exposure effect comes into play.
Yesterday’s gruesome events hit a hard nerve. I couldn’t stop reading updates for hours and hours in horror and asking myself what is happening on this earth where at a rock concert, in a glorious, free country lives are ominously taken. This can’t be real life. This can’t be the planet we call home.
I think the way the Jean Jullien Peace for Paris image went viral is a beautiful feat of humankind and the unity it inspired is the silver lining in the wake of tragedy. But I think we should pray for the world because it seems a little broken right now – and we are all united under this universal umbrella called humanity.