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From a Scandinavian Train Window: An Invitation to Shared Humanity Amidst Conflict and Cyberbullying

A tear trickling down a face, with a reflection of a war-torn landscape, against a keyboard backdrop.
Kaia Thonul, Friday, November 10, 2023, 09:49

Chilly fingers tapping on my keyboard betray the frigid 4 degrees outside the window of my morning train. The stark, harsh light of the Scandinavian winter bounces off the snow and paints everyone and everything in sharp relief, reflecting the somber mood that pervades my thoughts over the last article I perused this morning on Aftenposten.

As I parse the numbers - 248 lives lost in Gaza, including 66 children; 12 lives ended abruptly in Israel, inclusive of two children, an icy shiver runs down my spine that has nothing to do with the frosty weather. My heart is heavy, burdened with the relentless perpetuity of conflict in the Middle East, the futility of treaties signed years ago such as the Oslo accord, that have failed to stop the merciless cycle of violence.

These namesless faces form the chilling statistics are, like so many of us, victims. Victims not just of the physical, tangible manifestations of conflict, but also recipients of the crushing weight of judgement, preconceptions and outright hatred hurled so casually from the comfortable anonymity of a keyboard or phone. It feels unjust, unkind, unfair.

This train of thought chugs me along to another, insidious form of bullying that is less outwardly brutal but no less damaging - the relentless judgment and stereotype perpetuated in a faceless, seemingly inconsequential arena: the online space. The internet, once touted as a cumulus of human knowledge, connections and understanding has, to my despair, also become a breeding ground for cruelty and scorn; a hotbed for body shaming and cyberbullying.

The pain inflicted through thoughtless comments by faceless profiles, attacking and belittling the physical appearances or differences of others, is no less traumatic than a physical blow. Yet it is widely overlooked, excused as harmless 'banter' or hidden behind the coward's shield of 'free speech'. This insidious monster often skulks under our very noses, in the palm of our hands, the often overlooked dark underbelly of our bright, shiny, connected world.

The words 'You're too fat', 'You're too thin', 'You're too this or that’, are too often flung with reckless abandon at unsuspecting victims. They wreak havoc on the emotional and mental well-being of innocents, often leaving them feeling worthless, unlovable, and invisible.

The truth of the matter is, behind each profile, each comment and each post, is a person. A living, breathing, feeling individual who exists beyond the glass barriers of a screen. We so often forget that. We forget to treat people in the virtual sphere with the dignity, respect and kindness they deserve in the real world.

Today, as I ride this train to Oslo, the dismal news from the Middle East resonating inside me, I invite myself and whoever stumbles upon this humble blog post, to remember our shared humanity. Let us remember that we are more alike than we are unalike, irrespective of differences in physical appearance, location, or religion. Let’s remember to treat each other with kindness, both online and off. Let's not forget, even in our darkest moments, to let our shared humanity guide us.

As I hit 'Publish', the train pulls into Oslo, light catching on ice, and my frozen fingers slowly regaining feeling. My hope? That this little digital message in a bottle finds its way to someone, anyone out there, and prompts us all to think, and to change our part in the story.

Tags: Conflict in the Middle East Humanity and Empathy Middle East Conflict Cyberbullying humanity

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