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One is not just a number: the importance of humanizing national politics

This term I decided to take a political science class. The fact that I dropped it after two classes is beside the point, but I did learn one thing: Political discussion is almost always done in macro terms.

To further explain my point, I will give a very basic example. We discussed the US–Iran conflict and, throughout the discussion, we only talked about decisions made by “the United States” and “Iran.” The only names I heard were of Donald Trump and General Qasem Soleimani and I realized that in academic settings, often we forget that there is human intervention in making these decisions, with the exception of big, powerful names.

Systems are made of humans who make decisions that impact other human lives. Somewhere along the lines of such academic discussions we lose our understanding of the human condition.

I read a headline recently: “54 dead at Sulemani’s funeral procession.” Big number. How many times do we stop to consider those numbers as actual people?

More so, how many times to we stop to even imagine the impact of that number on their 54 families and countless loved ones that may have lost their everything.

I come from India, a country ravaged by constant political dispute and riots. I was so used to this, that once I read in the newspaper, “3 dead from police brutality during protests,” and the first thought that came to my mind was, “3 isn’t so bad, last time was a bigger number.” We reduce people to numbers and we forget their existence outside the headline and I understand.

Politicians and governments have to look after all their constituents. When we, in academic settings, engage in discussion, we have to consider big impacts on the whole, not on an isolated person. And somewhere in the midst of those national-scale decisions, we forget the reverberance of the impact these decisions will have on individual lives.

This phenomenon really hit me this winter break. I went back to India to find that my dad is really sick. I spent days and hours sitting outside doctors’ offices, only for most staff and doctors to give me responses like, “Yeah, bed number 162, right? This is what’s wrong and this is what we are hoping for.”

They mostly referred to him by a number and even when delivering horrifying news, had a monotonous, disinterested voice like his condition doesn’t affect them outside their profession. For sure, this was not true for everyone but even for those that it was, I cannot blame them. It is indeed their job, since they look after hundreds of patients. This one man is not their only concern. He’s not their family and his situation is not their priority when they go home at 9pm.

For me and my family, however, he is everything. Bed number 162’s condition affected countless people who know him. Family and friends didn’t sleep countless nights in fear and stress, we didn’t eat, we didn’t think, we didn’t live, all we could do was pray.

That was when I realized the impact of a number. One.

I don’t blame the desensitized views people have when they discuss political disputes and the implications of political decisions. I do, however, fear that we have lost our awareness and sensitivity to those whom these decisions affect. Until its our family and our community, we forget the unsurmountable cost of even one human life.

We, living in Northfield, are far away from this uncertainty at the moment, but maybe we should extend our empathy to the strangers we don’t know and think about our shared human experience that transcends beyond the restrictions of physical borders. We have been conditioned for war because more often than not, it is a concept that is far away from our immediate situation. But maybe it is time to challenge that condition and really look into the human factor of political discussions, to really look above and beyond a number. Because we may even be able to count the number of lives affected on our fingertips, but the value of even one will fill up an ocean and not be enough.

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