I was on a flight to Washington D.C. from San Diego a few days ago and beside me as we were preparing for take-off was a boy not more than 10-years-old. When we reached a high enough altitude and the announcement was made that we could use electronic devices, I watched the mom reach in her bag and pull out a DVD case and a small laptop. She handed it to the boy.
I was expecting to see him pull out a music CD or a movie like UP or maybe a game like Super Mario. He set up his computer, pulled out DVD and when the game finally popped up on the screen I was shocked to see that it was 'Call of Duty 2.' It was ironic that I was on my way to a meeting at the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) headquarters to discuss mental health issues and programs for youth as a family and parent advocate/consultant/expert.
This young boy proceeded to become completely engrossed in a video version of nothing more than killing animated people with animated machine guns. For five hours straight, his face came within inches of the screen and his body moved slightly back and forth, in towards the screen and back as he intently focused on the blood and gore and killing that is a "game".
As his mom slept, I was thinking about how numb this boy could be becoming to the realities of violence and killing, and wondering if he was also becoming numb to the value of human life. This kid was so enthralled that when the flight attendant came by to offer drinks he put his finger to his lips and said "shh" and went right back to what seemed to be a video violence addiction.
I felt a sudden surge of sadness at the thought of just how desensitized society, and especially our youth, seem to have become to violence, abuse, death and trauma. As an activist for non-violence, and as a survivor of violence and abuse myself, this is of particular concern to me.
The issue of violence is already a tough topic for people to listen to or want to talk about. Why? Because we are bombarded with gruesome images day in and day out. From tweens on up, what we see in the media, in movies, on the Internet, on television and the increasing number of so called "games" is making many numb to it all. Do we turn a blind eye to most of it now? Do we focus our attention on cancer research and treatments or other diseases that are easier in terms of understanding and stigma? Cancer is an incredibly important issue, like many others dealing with life threatening and physically crippling results. Yet violence and abuse is a global epidemic that can cause the same results: life threatening, physical and emotional crippling.
To localize it a little, consider these numbers: Approximately 400 new cases of pediatric cancer are reported in San Diego each year with a brand new cancer and care facility addition being built that will cost upwards of $260 million. The approximate number of abuse and neglect reports in San Diego during the same time period, many of which are substantiated: 40,000. That does not include substantiated reports of domestic violence or violent crimes(murder, assault, rape) or traumatized veterans of war. Many (including domestic violence, rape, assault, and child abuse survivors) are suffering in silence with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, and other debilitating condidtions due to violence, abuse, and trauma. While thinking of that $260 million, think about this too: in California in recent years, state funding for battered women's shelters and violence/abuse recovery programs was nearly cut by 100%.
Although pediatric cancer is an important cause, just as breast cancer and other physical diseases are, emotional and mental diseases and getting people to a state of mental and emotional wellness is equally important. In fact, violence and abuse are claiming lives across all social, economical, gender, race and geographical lines.
Survivors know the realities of violence, abuse, neglect, and trauma and know that it is anything but a "game". But society as a whole seems to be forgetting about them and about the help and support they need to get well not only physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. How comfortably numb are we becoming to violence, abuse and emotional trauma? For me sitting next to a 10-year-old playing 'Call of Duty 2', whose mother seemed totally oblivious to what she was allowing her son to engage in, was anything but comfortable.
Programs and financial support for kids and adults suffering with the aftermath of violence, including those coming back from war torn countries, are desperately needed. The next time you are considering supporting a cause or donating to a project or organization, watch T.V. or go on the Internet and instead of looking past the images of violence taking place around the world, think deeply about one thing: this is happening to real people just like you and me. Men, women and children. Don't allow yourself to become comfortably numb to a problem that is destroying and taking lives, and now being called a "game"; a game that is not educating our kids about violence, it is engaging them in it and lining corporate pockets with money that could be used to help those who are suffering in the aftermath of violence and abuse.
To help survivors of violence, abuse and trauma, donate, become a sponsor, or to learn more, visit Rock To Stop Violence at RocktoStop.org.