Apr 17, 2019
In February 1915, only six months after the beginning of World War I, Lancet, a British medical journal, used for the first time the expression “shell shock.” This newly coined expression was used to describe the feeling of helplessness that soldiers felt after exposure to constant bombardment. The term was new, but not the reality. After every war, soldiers return from combat, suffering “shell shock.”
Watching their comrades mowed down by enemy fire or left maimed and strewn on the battlefield, combatants become immune to feelings of connectedness and concern. Today, this phenomenon is becoming an epidemic. We are constantly being bombarded by bad news. The catastrophic and inhumane events that interrupt our everyday life are causing many people to escape from the brutality by becoming shell shocked.
Terrorist attacks in Belgium, Syria, Africa, and in England; daily violence on the streets of Chicago, New York, Paterson; the massacre of our children in their schools and of believers in their churches, synagogues and mosques; the interminable disputes and rancor over immigration; allegations of racism and sexism; the incessant reporting of scandals, present and past! Moment by moment these evils confront us. So fast does news travel that one story stumbles over the other with images of the dead, the wounded, the homeless imprinted on our minds. These problems do not admit of simple solutions. And, since we are more aware of them today than in the past and yet less able to find solutions, many, left numb and disillusioned, drift into apathy.
In addition, newspapers, blogs and TV commentaries flash before us cause after cause, such as global poverty and climate change. “Every cause seems urgent, but nobody has the time, the energy, or the information necessary to make an impact. Knowing all the ways in which the world is flawed in a very real, raw, up-close kind of way without the ability to make any sort of important change is perhaps the most unwelcome symptom of the digital age” (Jamie Varon, “Generation apathy: How internet outrage is making us all numb and hopeless,” August 20, 2015).