It’s almost three months since Russia attacked Ukraine. At the start of the war, it seemed that Ukraine was the only topic in the news – broadcast news, cable news, magazines, newspapers. Everything Ukraine was also trending on social media. Ukraine remains a lead story going on three months of war, but how long will people pay close attention and continue to listen, really listen? Or will we become numb after a while? For the moment, Ukraine is still in the spotlight, but that could change at any time with the next natural disaster or humanitarian crisis. That can’t happen.
Russia’s brutal war on Ukraine is obviously affecting the people of Ukraine, but the war is having – and will continue to have – far reaching consequences well beyond Ukraine’s borders; for example, the world is facing another massive refugee crisis, an energy crisis, and the threat of an expanded war, even a nuclear conflict – all as a result of the war. In the globalized world of 2022, there is no escaping the serious life-altering ramifications of this war.
That’s why it’s so critical that we keep Ukraine in the spotlight. And not just the big picture of what’s happening, but that we continue to share individual stories of Ukrainians and others directly affected by the war – personal stories. This includes people living in Ukraine, displaced Ukrainians, volunteers providing support inside and out of Ukraine, humanitarian organizations, freedom fighters, and anyone else affected by the war. Many of the news outlets have been doing just that. We hope they continue. And not only the news outlets, the amazing humanitarian organizations such as UNICEF, the American Red Cross, and World Central Kitchen are routinely posting personal stories to their websites from people directly affected by the war. Spotlight Ukraine is also looking for contributors to tell their personal stories or share reflections and observations about the war, so that we can help to keep Ukraine in the spotlight for as long as the war continues – and beyond. If you have a story to tell, please contribute to Spotlight Ukraine. Visit our contributor page to learn how.
Why personal storytelling is so important in crisis
We live in a world of information overload. The constant barrage of email, social media, and 24/7 news cycle has taken its toll on the public and people’s capacity to absorb, digest, and even continue caring about issues that may not impact them directly. It’s not that people in general are uncaring; in fact, whenever there’s a natural disaster or humanitarian crisis, it seems that somehow people from around the world band together to help others in need. Looking back over the past few decades at the many natural disasters and humanitarian crises the world has faced, time and again global citizens have come together to provide support and humanitarian aid to lift those affected.
But now more than ever before, it seems that every day brings a new crisis, so we need to make a concerted to keep Ukraine in the spotlight. Here’s a small sampling of this week’s news sound bites in the US: soaring inflation, California wildfires strike early, another subway shooting in NY, and the war in Ukraine rages on – not to mention increasing COVID cases in parts of the country and did we mention monkey pox? People in general, and especially Americans, have a limited attention span. At Spotlight Ukraine, our fear is that despite the unprecedented global support for Ukraine that we see today, people may grow tired of the crisis before it is resolved. We can’t let that happen and personal stories help keep people engaged.
We also fear that over time, people around the world may experience psychic numbing when it comes to the crisis in Ukraine. And that’s another reason why personal stories are critically important.
Robert J. Lifton coined the term “psychic numbing” in 1967 to describe the “turning off” of feeling that enabled rescue workers to function during the horrific aftermath of the WWII bombing of Hiroshima. Since then, Paul Slovic, a University of Oregon psychologist, has studied and written about the subject extensively. Slovic has noted in his writing, “Most people are caring and will exert great effort to preserve ‘the one’ whose needy plight comes to their attention. But these same people often become numbly indifferent to the plight of ‘the one’ who is one of many in a much greater problem.”
Ironically, Joseph Stalin, who was the leader of the USSR and responsible to a great extent for the death of millions of Ukrainians as a result of the man-made famine (Holodomor) of the 1930s, understood the concept of psychic numbing long before the phenomenon was characterized and defined by Lipton. The quote attributed to Joseph Stalin “One death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic” is an illustration of psychic numbing.
As the war in Ukraine continues, the causalities will continue to increase from a few injuries and deaths at the start to thousands and tens of thousands. According to Slovic, “As the number of victims in a tragedy increases, our empathy, our willingness to help, reliably decreases.”
Sadly as the number of war casualties increase, it often becomes more difficult for people to connect. People can’t personally relate to tens of thousands of people in the same way they empathize with an individual; as a result, as suffering increases, the level of empathy goes in the other direction.
The power of sharing personal stories
The power of personal storytelling is well documented. We love to listen to stories, whether real or fiction. Stories help us feel connected to the world around us and they can add color and meaning to information that would be otherwise lost. Unlike statistics, personal stories can help to elicit emotion and a deep connection that helps to keep people engaged with the material. So keep reading, listening, and watching the personal stories about Ukrainians and others affected by the war. Share the most compelling stories with your family and friends. And if you have a personal story, please share it with us. We would love to hear from you.
In the meantime, check out these sites to learn about the incredible work that’s being done for Ukraine by three nonprofit organizations, all of which are sharing stories and voices of Ukrainians and others affected by the war.
- American Red Cross Website – Voices of Ukraine: Refugees Tell Their Stories
- UNICEF – Stories
- World Central Kitchen – Stories and Videos From The Ground
History.com Editors. “Joseph Stalin.” HISTORY, A&E Television Networks, 12 Nov. 2009, www.history.com/topics/russia/joseph-stalin. Accessed 18 May 2022.
“Psychic Numbing.” The Arithmetic of Compassion, www.arithmeticofcompassion.org/psychic-numbing.
Slovic, Paul. “Psychic Numbing and Genocide.” Apa.org, American Psychological Association, Nov. 2007, www.apa.org/science/about/psa/2007/11/slovic. Accessed 18 May 2022.