War shows our character

By: Anna Cristina Tuazon - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/CDN Digital | March 03,2022 - 08:00 AM

The horrors of a realized Russian nightmare gripped the world as we witnessed Ukraine bravely defending themselves from a ruthless invader. With Philippine election campaigns in full swing, the events in Europe should remind us of how high the stakes really are. We are not merely voting for our favorite candidate; we are choosing the leader that will decide our role in a possible world war.

More than just the outcome of the election, the process in which we engage ourselves and each other in political discourse is equally telling of our future as a nation. How people respond to news of war shows their character. If the first response is with indifference, it betrays a lack of empathy for people who are different from them. People who cannot empathize outside of their own group risks behaving in ways that discriminate and oppress. They promote laws and policies that hurt people because “it doesn’t hurt us anyway.” Consider the regional divides in opinion surrounding martial law and how lack of empathy for the suffering of other regions caused indifference from regions that benefited from that period, which in turn risks the return of such suffering.

An isolationist response is even worse. Isolationism, as prominently demonstrated in the US during the Trump era, pertains to the insistence in staying away from the affairs of others. While this may appeal to some, it is unsustainable as it refuses to acknowledge the reality that we are all interconnected, whether we like it or not. The pandemic should have been a stark reminder that we are not immune from what’s happening in the rest of the world. The invasion of Ukraine will affect our economy through gas price increases, among others. Autocrats all over the world are keenly watching the war in Ukraine to see if they can get away with something similar. What happens in Europe can happen in Asia and ultimately the Philippines. Our President’s relationship with Putin and other autocrats already puts us on an uneasy side of history. Even with purely protective intentions, choosing to isolate ourselves from global issues and concerns will only mean that we are unprepared when its effects finally knock on our doorstep.

Another problematic response is when we erroneously simplify the war as a US vs Russia issue. It is one thing to look at the larger and geopolitical forces in play; it is quite another thing to detach yourself from the suffering that is being inflicted. It is quite alarming to see some Filipino netizens celebrate the invasion, viewing it as a comeuppance for the US. It is not the US that is suffering; it is the Ukrainian people. The war is happening on a nation that never asked for it nor provoked it. (If you consider joining the EU or NATO as a provocation worthy of genocide and invasion, I invite you to reflect on what provocation truly means. I will also leave it to my political scientist colleagues to parse that out for you.) As a psychologist and especially as someone who works with children, the danger of seeing the war as a fight between two powers is that it renders suffering invisible. It reduces Ukrainian lives and liberty as simply collateral damage. People are dying. Children are dying. Kindergartens are being bombed. There is no moral reason for this to be celebrated or cheered, no matter the context and no matter whose side you are on. Even the death of an enemy shouldn’t be celebrated; we should instead recognize, with somber responsibility, what we had to do to defend ourselves. Remember this, not just for Ukraine but for the deaths and suffering that are happening in our own land. When we jeer and celebrate over someone’s death, even those we consider as enemies, we have to wonder if we’re the villains in this story.

Another response to war that is happening online is the use of humor. Humor has long been acknowledged as a common way for Filipinos to cope with adversity. However, unregulated humor, especially those that are targeted toward those without power, is no longer a coping mechanism but a tool for oppression. How do we know if we are using humor right? If we are using humor to equalize the power imbalance. Here I quote Terry Pratchett: “Satire is meant to ridicule power. If you are laughing at people who are hurting, it’s not satire, it’s bullying.” Genuine satire can be powerful in bringing to light the abuses of the powerful and helping the oppressed find a way to express dissent through humor. Mockery, however, perpetuates oppression as it downplays the seriousness and gravity of the situation. When people who are far away from the conflict engage in mocking humor toward Ukrainians and what they’re going through, this is not coping but simply being mean. Humor becomes a defensive mechanism rather than a coping mechanism — it can be used to detach ourselves from what we are seeing. In this case, we are protecting ourselves at the expense of people who are actually suffering. Ultimately, how we respond to suffering — of ourselves and others — shows our true character.

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TAGS: humor, Putin, Russia, Ukraine, war
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