Jan 17, 2013

A Numbers Game (Will Be on the Exam)

Source: ProProfs


It's exam period and we all know some poor soul who's slogging away at the books in the library trying to cram as much information into their heads as possible. Perhaps that poor soul is you. They become so consumed by their upcoming exams, it's all they can think about. And then exam day comes and you see their faces straight, probably going over some equation in their heads or trying to remember the name of the ruler at the time of that ever-so-important conquest that they'll have forgotten even occurred in a year or so. They prepare their bags and leave for school, college, university. If you see them, you wish them all the best, not really wanting to be in their shoes. A few hours later, you glance at your watch and think of them sitting in their exam hall, scribbling away every intelligent thought they can think of on to a sheet of paper. Exam period after exam period after exam period... all that hard work in hopes of a better future.

On Monday, students at Aleppo University were going through the same turmoil students all around the world are all too familiar with. They’d done the nights at the books, the highlighting, the frantic messages to friends to get an explanation on some concept or other they didn’t understand (that would definitely be on the exam because that’s just the joy of exams, isn’t it?)... They’d done it and they were ready to get their first exam over and done with. They said goodbye to their families and left for university. The anxious wait outside the exam hall, the preparation of stationery, the seating in a room of nervous whispers, and then the exam began. Two explosions hit the campus. At least 83 people killed and 150 critically injured. How many students put in all that work, never to see the outcome?

What’s sad is, we can’t understand it. We want to, we think we do, but we don’t. To us, 83 and 150 are numbers. Building a picture of 83 or 150 people in our heads is actually too difficult to do. We know it’s tragic, we know it’s inhumane, we know it’s wrong... but we find it difficult to feel all those things until something else happens first. We need empathise.

A psychological study gave participants some money and then gave them the opportunity to donate it to help children suffering from famine in Malawi. In one condition, they were told that food shortages were affecting over three million children. In another condition they were shown a picture of a girl called Rokia and told that her life would be changed for the better with their donation. Despite the fact that those in the first condition knew about the huge extent of the famine, those who were introduced to Rokia donated significantly more. You might be thinking it was solely the effect of the picture. Cleverly, the psychologists added a third condition. In this they showed Rokia, told them how their donation would help her but also gave the statistic that over three million children were affected too. Did these people donate more? No, they actually donated less. To make things even more baffling, telling participants about another child, as well as Rokia, who was also suffering, still yielded less donations that introducing Rokia alone. These results show that we find it difficult to emotionally connect and empathise if we’re presented with more than one person suffering. If we’re told three million people need help, logically this means your donation is more important, but we find it difficult to process that emotionally. Anything over one person and we lose our ability to connect.

Why do you think the NSPCC shows just one little toddler with a tear running down his face? Or why a charity’s income generation project highlights one mother’s quest to look after her whole family by selling scraps she’s found on the street? They know they need to appeal to our emotions, and to emotionally connect, we need a person, one person. What’s a little awful is, telling people about this effect actually makes them more resistant to it when the technique is used. That is the exact opposite of my intention. Think of it this way, when a charity uses the single identifiable victim, they’re not manipulating you, they’re helping you see things for what they really are. They’re helping you understand emotionally what situation people are living in and that it’s affecting human beings and not just statistical entities. Be grateful, and what I’m proposing is, with this knowledge, use the same technique on yourself. You don’t always have a charity showing you a heartbreaking video of every single massacre, natural disaster or other catastrophic event, so make one up for yourself.

The next time you hear of an earthquake, an epidemic, a school shooting, a tsunami, a famine, an increase of homelessness, a university being bombed... humanise it. Don’t get overwhelmed by the numbers but break it down to just one individual who was affected. It may be a young girl who lost her home in a natural disaster and can’t wear her favourite pink dress anymore, so she keeps crying about it to her mother days later. It may be a father who was made disabled by an air raid and so can no longer provide for his family or do things he used to love, like playing football on the street with his friends. Go back to the person you know who’s going through exam period right now. Imagine them not coming home from their next exam. If it’s you suffering through those dreaded tests, imagine yourself sitting in your exam and then hearing explosions and finding out one of your classmates had died. Make it real, because it is real.

"If I look at the mass I will never act. If I look at the one, I will." - Mother Teresa

Connecting to the victims means we’re more likely to help, and there can only be good in that. As we saw in the previous study, it means we’re more likely to give charity. That can go towards easing someone’s situation which will, in turn mean Allāh will help ease yours in the next. The charity will actually increase your wealth and reward and purify you of sins. The little extra effort and imagination you might have to put in to motivate yourself with be worth every second. Even if you don’t have a single penny to your name, you have the believer’s invisible weapon, du’ā’. If you encourage yourself to empathise with those suffering in your area or outside of it, your prayers to Allāh for them will be filled with so much more urgency, sincerity and passion. You won’t just have a weapon, you’ll have a powerful one.

Remember, the students at Aleppo University aren’t the only ones sitting an exam; we’re living one every single day of our lives. And on Results Day, our exam paper will be assessed. We got the stats, we can’t claim we didn’t know about the three million children in Malawi who were starving to death or the 150 people injured on the Aleppo University campus. We knew, but did we bother to feel it? We can look at it all like a numbers game, but that isn’t going to get us the results we’re hoping for.

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