Jean-Paul Mari is a journalist and psychologist, who, in his TED talk, claimed that we have a sense of immortality that gives us a “lightness of being.” And I think he is correct. We believe that death is something that resides far into our future (or maybe not at all, because we do not actively stop to think about it), instead of something that looms over our heads once we awake every day.
Growing up, our parents refrained from talking about it. In many cases, we are rarely given explanations for family deaths or even the deaths of our pets, for instance. Children are sheltered from media that address this theme, and although schools educate them about every other natural process, death is almost never one of them.
When you come to think of it, this is quite an amusing situation we have gotten ourselves into, because by celebrating birth and dusting death under the rug, we forget the direct correlation between the two. Every birth is eventually going to result in death (unless advancement in technology proves otherwise), and so the lack of conversation is a major concern.
It would be an understatement to say that both World Wars were exceedingly barbarous events. Thus, upon comparison with our global state today, most people would argue that we are in a significantly better condition. I would agree, given that the foundation of this claim is the awareness of the condition of society within our own bubbles of privilege and freedom.
What we fail to acknowledge and have a continuous conversation about is the countries that have been war zones for over five years now, such as the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria. We fail to recognize the repercussions of continuous combat on soldiers, civilians and families of victims. Sure, we share our sympathy sometimes in relatively insignificant ways for a couple of weeks, and then we go back to more important tasks like obsessing over our grades.
Platforms such as social media allow us to express our views on wars and terrorist attacks, although there isn’t much you can say about their atrocities that has not already been said. It is common for us to use these platforms to write about death tolls, but we fail to recognize those who have looked death in the eye.
These people are war veterans and we can add them to the list survivors of terrorist attacks. These individuals, Mari claims, are “facing the void of death.” They have smelled death in the air as smoke and fumes, felt it in the trembling of their bones and heard it in the paralyzing screams of their late companions. War veterans and terrorist attack survivors have looked death in the eye and returned with the incomprehensible knowledge of their own mortality.
In psychological terms, the effects of such events and the realization of mortality are called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or traumatic neurosis. All of them share common characteristics, in that the recollection of warfare or violence or similar conditions cause panic and anxiety attacks. They have trouble sleeping and have nightmares or have frequent disturbing flashbacks. Functioning normally and carrying out day-to-day tasks becomes distressing, forcing these individuals to resort to alcoholism, drug abuse or ultimately, suicide.
Although we categorize these symptoms as a disorder, I think it is more of a reflection and culmination of the ways in which humanity has failed in peacekeeping since the World Wars. It is a problem that we have failed to solve and are still going about solving in a fundamentally wrong manner.
Mari thinks we need to talk about death. He says we need to come to terms with our mortality. I agree, as it is the least we can do to instill the gravity of violence and death in our minds. In an ideal world, war and terrorism would not exist. But since ours is a fatally flawed world, we need to be honest about death with children and ourselves. We need to start by talking about it, confronting it and, as Mari says, “[giving] it back this meaning” of a mysterious place that nobody has almost seen and returned. By doing so, we will be a step closer to change.