Witnessing

Born Equal wrestles with the question of bearing witness to those caught in the grip of political violence.  We seek to amplify the anguish and evil that is being denied and the dehumanization that has become accepted, even normalized.

We worry that the ongoing nature of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict creates an environment that is desensitized to acts of cruelty and racism.  At the same time we are moved by the strength of the human spirit that tries to creatively adapt and prevail in the face of troubling obstacles to daily life.  But we are mindful of the ways in which individuals and communities both in the region and abroad normalize the fear and pain that is rampant, essentially accepting the abnormal reality of ongoing war as status quo.[1]

“Bearing witness begins where denial reigns” (Ullman, 2006).  It means striving to see the humanity caught in a river of torment, and it means grasping for psychological truths that have been silenced. This kind of social witnessing, “unlike the witness in a court of law who is expected to report the facts…is more effective in telling what it feels like, in uncovering what it means to be subjected to these conditions of suffering and evil” [2] (Ullman, 2006).

There is no avoiding the ways in which political violence seeps into our pores and both “affects” and “infects” us (Heyno, 2009) [3].  We are impotent in the inhalation of its destructive elements.  Bearing witness is an attempt to breathe spaciousness and empower both the listener and the storyteller, as nightmares that have been ingested are brought into a shared and new space.

Born Equal thus is a space devoted to amplifying the realities of those whose humanity has been erased.  We understand that hearing the stories and giving them volume is but a part of the process of working towards rectifying injustice.   We believe that we must both listen and amplify while also working to creatively and cleverly change an unjust, existing order.

The philosopher Leonard Grob [4], has recently called for a type of presence, which he calls, “responsible witnessing”.  It is a way of “being with” those who survive atrocity and other evils, that is not about an “accounting” for suffering, nor an overidentification with anguish that we can never hope to grasp. But rather, this presence entails an “attentiveness” to suffering, a “wakefulness” that “troubles us with brutal clarity”, and leaves us with the pain that evil inflicts.

We hope Born Equal will be a small contribution in defusing the toxicity of the status quo by holding the anguish, the losses, and the powerful longing to live freely.

 

Roth, J. (in press). Dwelling at the Thresholds: Witnesses to Historical Trauma Across Concentric Fields in Alpert, J. and Goren, E (Ed),  Psychoanalysis, Trauma, and Community: History and Contemporary Reappraisals. Relational Perspectives Book Series, Lewis Aron and Adrienne Harris. Series Editors.

[1] Martin-Baro, I. (1994).  Writings for a liberation psychology. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

[2] Ullman, C. (2006). Bearing witness: Across the barriers in society and in the clinic. Psychoanalytic dialogues, 16, 181-198.

[3]  Heyno, A. (2009). One being affected without being infected: Managing suicidal thoughts in student counseling,” in Briggs, S., Lemma, A., and Crouch, W. (Eds), Related to self-harm and suicide: Psychoanalytic perspectives on practice, theory, and prevention. London: Routledge.

[4] Leonard Grob, “Torture During the Holocaust: Responsible Witnessing”, in Losing Trust in the World: Holocaust Scholars Confront Torture, eds., Leonard Grob and John K, Roth, to be submitted for publication by the University of Washington Press, Seattle, WA, in its Stephen S. Weinstein Series in Post-Holocaust Studies, in press.