What Lucy Walker taught me about mindsets

In addressing Boston Marathon bombings, Lucy Walker, a renowned documentary filmmaker and social activist, at All-School Meeting posed the question, “Do you think that there is more or less violence now than there was in the last hundred years?” I didn’t have an immediate response which yes or no answers tend to provoke, but instead recognized that I didn’t know how to define violence itself. How do we as a people measure violence—number wounded, number shot, number of bombs released, number struck by drones? Number of prisoners beaten, number of women raped, number of humans trafficked?             But what about bullying or discrimination as a violence? I believe prejudice is a form of cultural violence. Violence of thought has implications to the ways we conduct ourselves, subtle or not, and can take root in action. Gandhi saw the colonial Indian people to be enslaved by their own mindset and tried to put into practice the idea of swaraj, independence through liberation from that mindset. The mindset of unacknowledged bigotry is violent and it must be discarded in order to begin to free people, especially the American, from cultural violence.

Yesterday at the Culture Politics Religion discussion group, a senior sitting across the table from me said that the 9/11 attacks and Boston Marathon bombings indicated to other countries that America was weak and that we needed to show America’s greatness by tightening airport security, even if racial profiling were necessary. He failed to recognize that this country is not greater than every other. In fact, Ms. Tous sent us an article a few days ago which affirmed that America is one of the most violent developed nations and aimed to understand why, citing the reason that we are insecure about our strength (http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/21/is-american-nonviolence-possible/). The senior neglected to see that our country’s strength is not determined by our being bombed (by U.S. citizens, nonetheless), but by our reactions to this event. We have bonded together as a community and now, we must contemplate and address our own violences—actions and thoughts.  We must not infringe on the rights of minorities, and if safety regulations were to be implemented, they must be implemented equally. We must free ourselves from the mindset that there are degrees of human by first recognizing that we all have prejudices.

Lucy Walker has left me with the belief that film can do just that—help people recognize the assumptions they have made about the people on the screen. The film takes the viewer into a new, undiscovered environment where they don’t have very much context. The fact that Wasteland was shot from the point of view of the artist also struck me. While the trash-pickers told their stories, the interaction between the artist and the trash-pickers is the way the audience can begin to enter the situation themselves, identifying more with the artist’s mindset. I also found so interesting the impact Lucy talked about Wasteland having on the trash-pickers who, possibly for the first time, have the opportunity to tell their stories. I believe that all humans have the right not just to survive, but to thrive, and Lucy’s sense that the trash-pickers did actually enjoy the opportunity to reflect makes me hope that maybe Rachel, Jordan, and I will be able to truly impact the lives of the people in our documentary.