Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Experiences and Cultural Perspective

I just had the most intense class discussion in my life. We were overviewing a case study involving some very uncomfortable, taboo subject matter and its involvement with the legal system. Perhaps I'll go into further detail at a later date, but it was nonetheless a very difficult subject to discuss, and I remember being at my feet the whole time wishing the situation in question could have been different.

Part of the case involves a woman making a decision about whether her son should plead guilty to challenge the immense charges placed against him, and she encouraged him to plead guilty because it would mean a lighter sentence, regardless of whether he was innocent or guilty. Many of my fellow classmates couldn't understand this, and tried to challenge the decision made with arguments such as, "she knows he's innocent; why doesn't he try to fight for justice?"

Also, among the difficult footage shown was an anonymous testimony of a victim to these crimes - desipte his face being blacked out, he seemed very relaxed to the point where it was unsettling. A bunch of us in class laughed, because his gestures and the way in which his body was formed was almost sexual in nature. In contradiction with the information he was giving in the interview, his body language was inappropriate, and, as a result of the discomfort in all of us, instilled laughter among my classmates.

One of my classmates- and I'll never forget this - actually challenged our responses. She spoke up, saying something along the lines of: "I just have to say that I'm ashamed of all of you. I don't understand why you're laughing at all of this - this is very disturbing footage, and being a mother myself, I feel compelled to think hard about what would be best for my child if I were in that situation instead of sitting back and laughing, detatching myself from the harsh reality of what these people are going through."

I could see the pain in her eyes, the emotion she was trying to hold back - it was a difficult thing to say, and I don't know if I could have done the same. At the end of the class, she even broke out in tears, feeling so hurt by how our culture has trained us to handle pain. At this moment, after years of feeling blank in life experience and emotional span, I've felt more compassion for somebody than I ever thought I'd be capable of. Compassion for the woman and her son, for my classmate who dared to speak up, for my fellow classmates and everyone around me, anyone who's ever hurt me or instilled emotion into me directly. It's there, and I've never been so certain of this until now.

This has brought many interesting thoughts in my mind. I've never thought much about how American society has taught us to respond to difficult things. Many of us lead such a comfortable life that we don't know what it would be like if something devastating happened to us. A lot of us are unable to place ourselves in others shoes, and so because we don't know how to respond, we laugh. Though it may be inappropriate, it's the only thing we can think of doing.

I think that, as a society, we need to be mindful of the fact that others may not have had the same experiences that we've had, and to think objectively about the social standards that are instilled in us at an early age. We need to question, "in my point of view, is this right?" rather than "is this what's acceptable at a societal standpoint?" These questions in themselves surround a lot of biases, but who's to say what's really right? It is not up to our peers and colleagues to make that call, it is up to us.

It is up to YOU to decide what you believe, whatever those beliefs are. So don't sell yourself short.

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