If I’ve learned anything in my teenage years, it’s that high-schoolers will avoid awkward conversation like the plague.
Something else I’ve learned?
Apparently everything is awkward.
Of course you never bring up your own problems, because that’s just a road to a boatload of unwelcome judgement. You don’t breach a serious topic, because it’s far easier to fake a laugh than hide your tears, your anger. Emotion has become awkward, and now we live in a world where conversation isn’t meant to be meaningful. We fear to address the truth because the truth hurts, and speaking of it solidifies reality. Rather than face it, we either ignore it, or distort it to the point where it’s unrecognizable. We seek out comfort and safety where it doesn’t exist, as if forging a fake peace in our minds and words can will it into existence. But that isn’t how it works.
The state of our world is not an easy pill to swallow, and frankly it shouldn’t be.
In early November, I had the privilege of attending RUMUN, a Model United Nations conference at Rutgers University, with my school. Participating in the Commission on the Status of Women, we covered topics ranging from reproductive health rights, to abortion law, to labor force participation. The chair of our committee took the time before each new topic to carefully outline the intricacies of the sub-issues within them, and it didn’t take long for us to approach that topic. The one that no individual really wanted to address. FGM - Female genital mutilation.
For a moment there was pin drop silence, a screaming quiet as delegates lowered their heads and amassed all their focus on twiddling their thumbs. The shift in the room was tangible, especially the occasional stolen side glances between the boys and girls. A cloud of unease settled upon the room. Even the seemingly constant side chatter of the bored kids in the back row came to a halt.
The moment was fleeting. As our chair began to delve into the specifics of FGM, a boy in the seat behind me whispered all too loudly to the girl beside him: “Ew, why the fuck are we talking about this? It’s gross!” She chuckled and nodded along, almost robot-like. Every part of me wanted to turn around and ask that boy why on God’s green Earth he was participating in the CSW if he wasn’t interested in actually discussing the hardships women face.
But I didn’t.
Nearly three months later, that day has still stuck with me. Regret; why didn’t I say something to him? Anger; why did he say such a thing? I think I found an answer.
It’s human nature to seek familiarity. Most of us aren’t risk takers - we don’t live on the edge because we fare just fine staring down the ledge from afar. And why venture to the precipice anyways? Look down that drop, all you see is darkness. Unknown. We hear screeches and roars echoing against the walls of the valley and consider taking a look, but more often than not, we return to the security of steady ground. It’s the fear of obscurity, because no one finds investigation of the occasional noise that bounces it’s way up worth the potential of falling into the depths. Where pain or struggle exists, we root out the easiest ways of dealing with it - pretending it doesn’t exist, or warping it in our minds so that it can’t hurt us. Deafen ourselves to the screaming, weave it into our pop and rock to drown it out.
Sarcastic ‘racism.’ Rape jokes. Fake suicides.
But those noises aren’t phantoms. They’re people, real people. The ones that aren’t lucky like us, that don’t have the luxury of walking away when it gets too loud. Awkward.
When did we cease to address all of humanity’s problems as our own? When did we begin to fear our own world so much that we blinded ourselves to those in need?
When will we realize that a world like ours is not meant to be comfortable?
When murder, rape, and even female genital mutilation still occur on a daily basis, ease is the last thing we should pursue. It’s time we stop chasing after a temporary numbness and instead create change to heal humanity’s wounds for good. The moment we begin to meet everyday atrocities with indifference, we risk normalizing the cruelty, normalizing the suffering.
The moment I switch on the TV to the news of another school shooting and my only reaction is, “another one?” I’ve lost my humanity. I don’t want to live that way, and I don’t wish our planet to follow that path. I realize now that the boy at RUMUN who made that careless joke was afraid, afraid to speak of something like FGM because he didn’t know how it’d be received. Because FGM is ‘awkward.’
But it starts with moments like that. Awkward topics become unheard headlines become forgotten problems become an underlying itch under humanity’s skin that never seems goes away. We can’t let ourselves forget. We must open up the conversation, release our inhibitions and speak freely of worldwide matters not as mindless banter, but as global citizens wishing to drive change. Our world is not perfect - it’s far from it. To acknowledge those flaws and take action is what will separate us from the past.
Their problem is always going to be our problem, no matter how much we pretend it isn’t. Today, I choose to stop pretending. I choose to open my eyes. I choose to fight for those who can’t.
Even if it means getting uncomfortable.