Lately, I’ve been thinking about all the pain I ignore around me. I see beggars everyday and walk by, sometimes not even looking in their faces because it makes me feel guilty. When I go to the beach, I am not always patient with the sellers trying to thread my leg hair or sell me yet another bracelet. Sometimes I’m rude and say somewhat briskly in Khmer, “No, I don’t want!” and get back to reading my book. Whether it’s failing to smile at the person walking past, or not taking the time to talk to a friend that really needs me, I realize that in ignoring all these tiny things, I am becoming more and more desensitized to the hurt around me.
A big wakeup call happened when my sister and I visited Teol Sleng in Phnom Penh. The site is a high school that was turned into a prison for torture and execution during the Khmer Rouge. The people were taken there to be interrogated and tortured. Each prisoner was numbered and photographed upon arrival. Animal like cells were fashioned of bricks and wood to confine the prisoners till their deaths. We walked through the narrow cells and saw some of the instruments they used to torture the “accused.”
I ran my hands across the rough bricks and looked into the faces of hundreds of people that were murdered, all the while thinking, “I had no idea.” Over twenty thousand men, women and children were executed in that high school alone. When the Vietnamese army liberated Cambodia, there were only seven prisoners left alive in the prison. The rest had been electrocuted, waterboarded, seared with hot metal instruments and beaten to their deaths.
As I walked into one of the makeshift cells, I thought the person that crafted this cell knew it was meant to hold a human being. I wondered, did they stop and think about how their actions would affect someone, or did they force themselves to block out all emotion and go on with the task at hand?
It’s an extreme example, but think about how it applies to your daily life. How many times do you shut off your emotions and “go on with your life.” How many times do you change the channel when you see big bellies full of nothing but parasites? How many times do you listen to the guest missionary at your church talk about hunger, disease, lack of resources and afterwards go out to a nice brunch with your friends? How many times do you watch celebrity gossip shows instead of educating yourself on the things that are really going on in this world?
I know we all do these things more often than we would like to admit. But we can change. Let’s allow ourselves to hurt for other people. Let’s stop turning our heads and hearts away from things that cause us discomfort. Let’s stop living in our own ignorance and choose each day, to live in love, no matter the cost.
May these innocent faces remind you, ignorance is never bliss.