Ok, so, you know how there are some things you just can’t get out of your head? For me, it’s the face of this young, blonde girl. She was about yae high, with a smile that reached her eyes.
There was a photo of her on my Twitter timeline, so I started to read about her. And I don't particularly know why she stood out to me. It might’ve been how positive the thread was. She did sound like the kind of girl I'd love to be friends with.
So, I click on her profile and I'm about to activate stalker-mode, like, how can I find out more about this girl?
But then I get to her profile. And, I realise she’s dead.
This smiling young person, this girl my own age, was a victim of a school shooting. And beneath that post was an entire thread of others, telling the stories of other victims at her school.
I'd heard the statistics about school shootings before. But as an Australian, I never stopped to learn more. There was an ocean between me and those numbers. Numbers; not kids.
As humans, we collectively ignore problems until they hit close to home. Google tells me over 200,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the US, but as an Australian, I didn’t know that. As an Australian, it didn’t matter.
Death toll numbers seem scary to us these days, but why only now? Why only when the lives of our own family members are at risk? Statistics insulate us from human suffering until the suffering arrives on our doorsteps.
Ok: how many times have you been at the shops, and you see someone collecting donations, so you’re like, wow, suddenly my shoes look so interesting.
“1 in 5 Australian women have experienced sexual violence?” eh, you hear that sort of stuff every day.
Yeah, you could spare a few coins. But where will they go? To a statistic. Not people.
I mean, as teenagers, we are the most desensitised generation yet. We skim over devastating news stories with a shrug. We identify our own friendships by the number of Snapchat streaks we have. We’re more concerned about likes and followers than the human beings pressing those buttons.
But there just might be something we can do.
There’s a reason the face of that girl is burned into my mind. The teenagers at that school, they could have posted numbers that would be mindlessly scrolled by. But instead, they posted faces and stories, and they reached millions.
I stopped to read all the posts that day. And I felt something in that moment. I didn't know it at the time… but it was the same feeling I’d get when my grandpa would end up in the hospital and my mum would tell me to take a day off school because it might be the last time I saw him.
It was the same feeling I’d get when my Uncle would die of a heart attack.
It was the same feeling I’d get when a classmate would sit down beside me at the station one morning, stare at his Nike sneakers and say, "my sister died last night."
It was the feeling that we humans are meant to experience when faced with suffering and injustice. This intrinsic grief for a member of our own tribe. I didn’t know that girl on Twitter, but the feeling came to me then. And yet, in a world full of suffering and death, it was the first time it ever had.
The stories of those kids whose lives were stolen by a gun connected me to the suffering of my own kind. And stories in general reach so much farther than numbers, because as humans, we inherently gravitate towards narratives. It's why World Vision asks you to sponsor one child, rather than donating to the feeding of 10,000. It’s why GoFundMe campaigns in the name of one person often rack up more than charities who help thousands.
Our ancestors would sit under the night sky and tell stories around the campfire. Whether that sky brought them the southern cross, or the constellation of Aquarians in the north, the stories would connect them all the same.
As teenagers, as the future generation, we have to keep the campfire alight. We have to keep sharing our stories. So, don’t scroll past the statistics: research the stories behind them. Don’t just add your like to a post about an issue: be an advocate. Don’t count your Snapchat streaks: appreciate the real hours you spend with your friends.
We have to be the ones to see through the numbers. We have to spark dialogue. We have to keep real connections alive. Because we cannot be silenced by numbers.