Is it just me or do you also feel that it is getting increasingly difficult to patronize halal restaurants and focus on our meal or conversation because of large television screens blaring Bollywood or its Middle Eastern equivalent at us? Do any of you also feel horrified at the number of Groupons coming out for pole dancing lessons, adult novelties and burlesque dressing classes? Does it also bother you when young people bump into and walk past you, sans apology? Does your jaw drop when you see tweens dress provocatively and walk around malls with clothing that accentuates their still developing body parts? Are you, like me, one who rolls up her windows when the car next to you pours out loud vulgarity in the name of music? Then you, like me, are to be labeled a Highly Sensitive Person.
I stumbled upon this term/label “HSP” (Highly Sensitive Person) as I was doing some reading. One definition of which is “a person having the innate trait of high psychological sensitivity”. Digging deeper I found that I, and many of the people around me, could be labeled “highly sensitive people”. HSP may be just a label today but I’m afraid that with the continued desensitization of our world that is taking place, being sensitive may be seen as a disorder and any one of us who cannot calmly watch heads flying, blood gushing, or nudity flashing, will be seen as the ones with the problem! Video game addicts like Kevin agree that they are desensitized, “as I ripped a monster’s head and beat his buddy with it….It didn’t bother me.” 1, but the many well researched, scholarly articles from the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 2 and Psychological Science 3 publications will prove the cognitive, behavioral and affective outcomes are not just personally damaging but socially worrisome.
As a non Arabic speaker, the language of the Quran sounds sacred to my ears, so watching gyrating hips and sexualized images with pop music to Arabic lyrics causes me unease, just as the misuse of my ancestral language when attached with filthy English vocabulary does. There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that violence and gore desensitizes us, but what about the sensuality, nudity, foul language and subtle references to all things immodest? Why do we still continue to accept this desensitization and permanence of foul into our hearts so quietly? Are we so desensitized as a community to not see a problem with violence, gore, profanity, sexuality and sensuality? Let me explain what I mean.
While at a certain halal desi restaurant, with a Bollywood movie playing on screen (which, if there were a rating system for Bollywood movies, would all be either R or NC 17), a family with three generations of guests sat together uneasily. My friend who was in the group asked the manager of the restaurant to change what was playing because of the inappropriate content and the reply she got shockingly was , “ Well, there are others watching too. I can’t change it just for you!”
Another example is when a different friend of mine was at a community park event where there were activists with posters showcasing the atrocities in the Middle East. Large, color pictures of tortured, killed and seriously injured victims of the violent Arab Springs hung around the park to draw attention to the urgency of the matter. This friend, who happened to be there with her young daughter, asked one of the organizers if the posters were really necessary- after all, it is a Muslim event and we all are in agreement over the seriousness of the issue. She was attacked verbally by the organizers who said she did not care for her Muslim brethren around the world and how shameful it is that she would shy away from the truth and wants others to do the same!
Reading Dr. Leonard Sax’s book, Boys Adrift, I was shocked (okay, label me HSP) to read the chapter on the addiction to pornography and I wondered how much of this begins with desensitization to sexuality? Television, magazine ads, video games, posters, billboards everything sells sexuality. Kids are bombarded with images of scantily clad women and today girls as young as twelve and thirteen walk on the streets dressed like prostitutes of the past. One tongue in cheek web article talked about how hard it is becoming for a man to pick up a prostitute because everyone seems to be dressed similarly! Wry humor aside, it is a point to consider as our kids are exposed to all this as well. If Imam Ghazali found a glitch in his memory from seeing a woman’s ankle, then what do you think will happen to our generation?
I still cringe when someone in a normal conversation uses the vernacular, “pissed off”, “shit” or “freaking”, but words like the “f” word, the “b” word and worse are all becoming quite commonplace. Verbal desensitization? Yes, according to this Highly Sensitive person. Rudeness is being accepted by even the youngest of people. I am not alright if a kid says, “Duh!” to his parent just because she did not get something he said right away! I am not okay with the term, “damn” either. But parents are letting a lot slip because as a community we are letting our values slide.
If our deen expects us to be caring, considerate human beings, how can one care if the faculty has been desensitized and numbed? We are losing haya (modesty/shyness) and being degraded, we are losing empathy and becoming dehumanized and we are losing compassion and becoming detached from our world. We have to wake up and make a change to this scenario. It has to start with our own children throwing away their video games (if they still have them), and our vendors shutting down their big screens that degrade us and our communities standing together with others and reclaim our right to be compassionate, caring human beings. We cannot be demoralized by what’s going on in society and shut ourselves out. We have to be determined to bring back sensitivity for and to humanity and pray that God help us be an ummah that is sensitive enough to “feel” for our brothers like we are commanded to, Ameen.