Monday, September 17, 2012

Acclimated and Desensitized

About this time last year the air conditioning in our car went out.

Luckily though I only had to go a week driving in the heat before the weather started to turn cool. That one week was terrible (granted I was pregnant and hot already) and I remember thinking that there was no way that I could ever survive a summer without air conditioning. I was pretty sure I'd die.

Fast forward a few months and May rolls around.

The first blistering hot day, I went to turn on the air conditioning and remembered that it was still broken. I had a bit of a panic attack and told Jon that he had to fix it right away because I couldn't make it one more day without it. But we were right in the middle of selling our house, graduating, and moving and so the air conditioning got put on the back burner.

It was amazing that what at first seemed like such a necessity became not such a big deal. We got use to rolling down our windows and always being slightly uncomfortably hot. In fact, I knew that I had really gotten use to the heat when one day we took an hour and half drive in 100+ weather and we arrived at our destination without even breaking a sweat. It really wasn't until we took a trip and our rental car had air conditioning that I remembered what it felt like to be cool and I was shocked at how my body had adjusted to harsher circumstances and I barely noticed.

I had another similar experience as well this summer because when we first moved to the city we live in now I was horrified by the taste of the tap water. I have never been picky about how my water tastes (and have secretly mocked those who are) but the tap water here is awful-- it is always warm, tastes like chlorine, and leaves a slimy film in your mouth. I couldn't even gag it down for the first few months we lived here and coming from me... that is saying something.

Yet we have lived here for less than four months and already I hardly notice how bad the water is. I can drink a glass and, while it is still warm and not very good, it doesn't make me want to spit it out or vomit like it did before. 

I have been thinking a lot about these two experiences and how very easy it is to become acclimated and desensitized to things that you forget how awful and harmful they are.

Ever since the Colorado theater shooting several months ago I have been thinking about how scary it is that, as a society, we have tolerated and embraced violence to a point where we use it as entertainment. And even though we are starting to feel the widespread consequences of that mindset, we still tolerate and embrace the very things that hurt us.

For example, my freshman year of college I got in a heated discussion with one of my male friends (who I had a crush on at the time) about the ethics of playing violent video games. If I remember right our conversation went something like this:

Me: Why do you play games where you  shoot other human beings?

Him: It is just a game. It is fun.

Me: Doesn't that disturb you? That going through the motions of killing something is "fun" to you?

Him: Really, it is just pretend. It's not like I would ever do it in real life.

Me: I know you wouldn't but, if for some unexplained reason you found  yourself in a dark alley, hiding behind a dumpster, with a machine gun in your hand, and a "bad guy" walked past'd know what to do right?

Him: I guess so. But give me a break... when would that ever happen? Besides a lot of the games I play we shoot aliens, bad aliens... not humans. They aren't even real. 

Me: But what if one day someone was able to convince you that Buddhists weren't real people. That they were bad, different, threatening... alien. What would be the difference then between your game and real life?

Him: You just way over react. It is just a game... you aren't held morally responsible for the choices you make when you play a  game. 

Me: But what if you are? What if pretend  really isn't "pretend" but that all this time you have been training your mind to think that  destroying life, even pretend life, is okay and normal... don't you think that affects your soul? What if one day it isn't "pretend", your mind, body and soul will already have been taught how to kill and hurt. 
At this point he got mad at me and walked off to his dorm... and he stopped walking home from class with me after that. Which was really okay with me because after that conversation all interest I'd had in him fizzled pretty quick.

Then about a year ago I got in just about the same discussion with my brother about violence in games, movies and books. The argument got (politely) hotter until finally we agreed that we should probably just agree to disagree.  My brother ended his argument with something like,  

"Heather, watching or playing violence doesn't make you violent. It isn't like after playing a video game you could just pick up a rifle and go around shooting people. It is a pretend world... not the real world. And the thoughts and feelings you have don't carry over into real life."

We ended our conversation and went downstairs to watch TV, we turned it on and the very first commercial we saw was this one.

After it was over we all just starred at the TV in disbelief and my brother turned to me and said,  

"Okay, I take it all back. You win."

There is a scripture from the end of The Book of Mormon that comes to mind. In Moroni 9, Moroni just finished describing to his son the horrors that he witnessed being committed by the Nephite men; men raping women prisoners, torturing them until they die, and them eating their raw flesh (I wrote about these women here). Then he wrote:
"... they have become strong in their perversion; and they are alike brutal, sparing none, neither old nor young; and they delight in everything save that which is good... .. and the suffering of our women and our children upon all the face of this land doth exceed everything; yea, tongue cannot tell, neither can it be written.... thou knowest that they are without principle, and past feeling...  Behold, my son, I cannot recommend them unto God lest he should smite me." (Moroni 9:19-20, emphasis added)
I am really fearful that because of our widespread cultural acceptance of violence we are creating a future generation who will be "past feeling" when it comes to the sanctity and value of human life.

I can't help but be especially disturbed that is mainly men who are entertaining themselves with violence (though women are closing the gap fast) because like Moroni laments... it is the women and the children who really suffer the consequences.

I think that we as a society are much more acclimated and desensitized to violence than we would even like to admit. We spend millions of dollar on books, movies, and video games that all make the destruction of human life seem glamorous, exciting and worst... normal.

It seems to me that we have been driving around so long in the heat that we have almost completely forgotten (or never even known) how nice it feels to be cool.

And we don't even notice how nasty the water is any more.

I think it is about time we just spit it out.

"Thoughts lead to acts, acts lead to habits, habits lead to character—and our character will determine our eternal destiny."  President Ezra Taft Benson (source)


  1. I was shocked at how saddened I was to find out that many men who hold the priesthood in our ward were going to watch UFC cage fights. I didn't think it would bother me as much as it does. I can't understand why any worthy priesthood holder would think it's okay to go somewhere where the girls in bikinis are announcing the rounds, and half naked men are kicking the crud out of each other. It's the same type of thing as the video games. And the men, when questioned about it, respond the same way. "It's a sport." "It's cool what the physical body can do." "It's a fun thing to go do with friends." Even their wives were going. Sadly, I fear this is a battle that Satan is winning.

  2. These are very wise observations, Heather. I would like to share two thoughts I have. First, my husband served in the military for 38 years, including a tour in Vietnam. He thinks nothing of watching violent war movies, and even critiques the actions the characters take for attack or evasion. We have a 10 month old dog who leaves the room and comes to me wanting to be held when these horrid noises play on the TV.
    Next, I recall a news story-maybe even 10 years ago, where a young teen-aged boy was wounded in a gang fight. My recollection is that his comments to the ER staff were that he thought he would be able to get right back up and continue to fight, and he was totally freaking out because of the pain from his wound. In the games, one can press a reset button, or wait for more 'power' to accumulate, and there are no consequences readily apparent for shooting or getting shot.

  3. I could not agree with you more. I just had a similar conversation with my boys about air soft gun wars and paintball gun wars. I really feel like these things are teaching us to love war and blood shed, and to be a "blood thirsty" people.
    I quote from "For the Strength of Youth" pamphlet to my kids all the time. On page 17 under Entertainment and the Media it says, "Do not participate in entertainment that in any way presents immorality or violent behavior as acceptable." Then on page 19, "Depictions of violence often glamorize vicious behavior. They offend the Spirit and make you less able to respond to others in a sensitive, caring way." So when people say it doesn't affect them they are wrong.

  4. You know I agree with you, Heather! Thank you for writing this post and that commercial really spells it out "point blank" doesn't it! :)

  5. You hit it spot-on. Tragically, not very many men, or women for that matter, realized how truly dangerous these games, movies, books, etc. are to everyone. We complain about a violent society, yet we do nothing to REMOVE the SOURCE of the problem. How twisted this world is. . . .

    Thank you, Heather. :)

  6. Amen!!! There is a computer game issue in my home that I wish with all my heart I could get rid of. It's so desensitizing. A few months ago I (very reluctantly) agreed to go see The Avengers with my husband. I sat through it whispering comments to him and rolling my eyes saying, "Are they ever going to stop hitting each other and have some actual plot?" It was ridiculous. And I vowed that I was never going to see another movie like that again, even if it meant losing out on a date opportunity. There's GOT to be something better to do.

  7. Elder Bednar gave a CES fireside on this subject a few years ago. He applied it to violent games, but also to the virtual world in general. Its one of my favorite talks.

  8. Our standard for anything is our family motto "May we dedicate our lives to serving the Lord and not worry about offending the evil." {James E. Faust} It has helped so much when making decisions about media! We do get desensitized the more we are exposed. Great post, Heather!

  9. Thanks for this post - I appreciated it, and also the comments. I'm going to go find Elder Bednar's talk....

    1. Robin the talk by Elder Bednar is called "Things as they really are."

      Here is the link,4945,538-1-4830-1,00.html

    2. I loved Elder Bednar's talk when he delivered it. I was disappointed (not surprised) to see some of my roommates balk at his counsel. Gaming is a serious hobby for many Priesthood Holders.

      But why is it so? What, exactly is the draw?

      It is because these men are temples. What does a temple do? It endows and seeks to be endowed with _power_. Getting behind a gun is all about power, be it vicarious or otherwise. Pornography works the same way. People want to be vessels of power because that is what they are meant to be, and god-like power (as understood by an idol-worshiping world) is the trade of these games.

      If these men would replace gaming with the real Endowments... the real power... it would change everything for the better. But they have to view themselves as "temples" in the first place. They have to believe that the symbolism that God is offering is actually worth something to them.

  10. I've had this conversation with a family member too over violent video games. He tried to tell me that men need to be prepared to defend their families and this is a "safe" way to prepare them, express violence etc. We decided to drop it since we could not agree. I pondered our conversation later and the Stripling Warriors came to mind. They "never had fought, yet they did not fear death; and they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives; yea, they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them" (Alma 56:47). So they never had tactical hands on training for battle. They had probably NEVER touched a sword or weapon because it had been their parent's oath to bury them. They were not preserved by being trained as assassins. Their parents had armed their sons with something so much more crucial to their survival - FAITH. The battle is just as real today. What are we arming our children with?

    1. Awesome point Robyn! I love this... and will so use it in the future because I've heard those arguments too.

  11. It makes me glad that my husband is morally opposed to First Person Shooter games. The games he likes playing are more historical in nature, or just kid stuff.

    But still, this gives me a lot to think about with regards to the media I take in.

  12. While my husband was in basic training they taught them that during the first world war they used the traditional bulls eyes for target practice and when those men were on the front line being shot at they had a very difficult time pulling the trigger. During WWII they started using the man shaped silouettes that they still use. The soldiers no longer have a difficult time shooting at "live" targets. If such a simple change makes such a huge difference imagine what shooting at pretend "live people" does!

  13. I couldn't agree more, Heather! Thankyou. Again.

  14. This is a fantastic post with excellent points. I don't know if my husband will agree, but I have to try....

  15. Totally agree with on! We have a complete ban on video game consols in our house and on T.V (as in we dont have one at all) and the only movies allowed in have to abide by strength of youth makes for very little media but we find ourselves busy with other more important things so it's a win win situation.

    . The saddest thing is when I sent my daughter to Young women's last week and they watchEd hunger games!!! I was sooooo angry, right in the chapel watching a movie based on extremely violent books....and when my husband first became young men president the boys had already planned and carried out an activity where they were playing violent video games in the chapel. He was astounded.....

    I think that those of us that shun these things end up being peculiar people within a peculiar sad....

  16. The Elder's quorum in our old ward had regular Halo nights at the church. Not kidding. My husband was disgusted, so he never went. Some friends of ours want us to see Hunger Games, but we keep telling them that we are opposed to the series.

    1. I can understand why you wouldn't want to see Hunger Games, but the book/movie doesn't really glorify the killings. Rather, it puts them in a light that they are evil. The Book of Mormon and Bible are also particularly violent, but the killings are never glorified in any way. I am in no way comparing the scriptures to the Hunger Games, but the Capital, who puts on "The Hunger Games," is always portrayed as evil and despicable. The series is all about the rebellion. Its really a fascinating novel and was even marketed to teens in the first place.

  17. Showing a commercial movie at church already violates the church policy on copyright (handbook); that it's a violent movie just spits in the face of leadership! How grotesque!

    Great post, and good points. I'm afraid that many who are even more acclimated than myself (because I'm certainly not immune!) won't see the point, or will be defensive about their desensitizing choices.

    This does give me some additional information to help with the battle in my own circle, though. Thanks!

  18. Amen!!

    I think another danger of lowering your standards for movies and video games is that you are learning to compartmentalize the bad stuff. The truth is you shouldn't be letting ANY bad stuff into your mind. And when you let bad stuff in, and convince yourself it's okay because it's "not real life" and it's only in a certain realm of your life that you don't consider "real life", then where does that end. That's how sin gets in.

    How do you think the Lord would feel about us pretending to sin, or acting out sin? Or pretending that we live in a world without the divinely appointed commandments and consequences of the gift of agency. At the very least, it is lusting after sin. Desiring sin and making sin appear glamorous. This offends the Spirit of the Lord. Any time you drive away the Spirit, you are playing with fire.

    1. I love this thought! Would we even consider pretending to sin?! Of course not!!! Would we 'pretend' shoplifting -- not really doing it, of course -- but just practice (stick around to see how it goes over with store management!)? Or work on how good we are at lying? How would that go over with people who trust us?

      We can choose the behavior, but we can't choose the consequences. When we make bad choices it does offend the Spirit . . . and makes us incrementally more vulnerable to evil.

  19. This is so true, Heather. Thank you for having the courage to speak out. I, too, loved the thoughts on the stripling warriors. They are who I would like my sons to model, not vioelnt video games. We have a no video game family policy. It is difficult because there are times my son cannot play with friends because they don't want to play; they want to play video games--and most of them are shocking to me. My son is only nine and I can only imagine it will get worse.
    My husband grew up playing the much more innocent atari, ect. and feels guilty over how much time he wasted away in front of the screen...
    If watching violence is not desensitizing, then why does the army use simulation-type training?
    We also use the For the Strength of the Youth to explain our stance as well...

  20. I'm so happy to see this post up. I remember talking about it as we were driving in the car with you without the air conditioning. The heat wasn't so bad, it was the wind that was chapping me. :)

    So what have you done about the AC and the water? Just curious? That water could be poisoning you and your kids.... I'm just wondering if this realization has made you actually do something about it. And all of us. I'm just curious to hear some positive stuff that people have done to change their household.

    Thanks. I'm gonna share.

    1. Good point Felice! We still have been drinking the water, but I think that might change really soon ;) And the AC-- well since it is cooling down again i think that is something that we will probalbly just deal with next summer... hopefully we will have a new car by then :)

      But as far as changing your household I think one of the biggest changes for me has not to have a TV in the house. It is amazing how when you are away from it you realize how desensitized you got to most of the junk that was on. Also, I make it a point to be SUPER picky about the type of violence I do watch. If it is for entertainment-- like an action movie-- I don't tolerate it but if it is history or scripture... things really happened and have something to teach me then I consider it... but even then I am quick to stop reading or watching if I feel like I watching or reading out of morbid curiosity.

      Also, I don't let my kids (or try not to at least) play with "toy" weapons. I don't really mind if they wanted to learn how to shoot real guns or weapons one day for things like hunting, self defense or target practice but I don't want them growing up with the idea that guns are "toys" and that violence is something to play at. I want them to know that if they choose to learn those skills there is a moral responsibility associated with it.

  21. I love the points you made and Robyn's added point about the Stripling Warriors. I agree wholeheartedly. It is so disturbing how violence is entertainment to us. Most of us are desensitized. I am so offended by violence I can hardly find a movie or show that I can actually enjoy watching.

    I have 3 boys and work hard to help them understand the importance of this.

  22. All comments and the article have been made by caring women. I just wish to add some perspective on what Jesus feels about humans killing humans. I hope you know that the Savior is the God of the Old Testament. When Jesus was caring for the olive trees "aka Israel" He took His people out of Egypt through Moses's leadership and their reward for following was a paradise land that was inhabited by hundreds of thousands of people and giants. Jesus, our Savior was setting up His chosen people to start anew, and told them to kill all inhabitants Man women child and pregnant women with out mercy or exception and take their lands and houses. Jesus didn't care so much about desensitizing His chosen people at that crucial point in history. King David, read his story, he was loved by Jesus so much that He promised to be born through David's lineage. David was instructed to kill and massacre thousands and thousands and thousands of relatively innocent people. So David, one of Jesus's very favorite and beloved servants in the history of the earth, was commanded to ACTUALLY kill whomever God wanted to remove from the earth. I'm so glad that prophets today aren't asked to do this LOL! God required for millennia that thousands and thousands of real animals be killed on alters, which is terrifyingly desensitizing if you think about it. All sacrifice back then was a bloody mess that would have been far more desensitizing than pressing buttons on a controller. So, to keep your dislike in perspective, I'd like to say that our current society has wimpified our generation of men where most have never killed their food for dinner, or killed anything in real life. There hasn't been a world war for awhile and most our men don't know how to really fight in a military. This is the wimpiest, most sensitive group of priesthood holders ever upon the earth. That said, God has Never condoned killing or violence for Sport or for Entertainment so all of you are correct about violent video games and UFC matches, I don't think they are appropriate, I don't watch or play them and don't let my kids play them or watch violence for ENTERTAINMENT. Desensitizing isn't the problem, wasting time pretending to kill people is. From a loving sensitive Mormon SAHD

  23. Oh, and all the official sacrifices were done by the priesthood holders in Solomon's temple, so God's most sacred servants killed animals and poured blood all day long. One commented about the stripling warriors, the prophet author was mentioning their lack of training to make fact of them not being killed a known miracle. In reality if those young men had time to train they'd have been trained to kill, like all of God's armies in every other scripture story ever.

    1. Can't agree with your point about the stripling warriors. They may have been trained to kill for food and had some experience with sacrificial killings associated with ordinances, but their parents buried their weapons in the ground as a token of their promise to no longer kill people, not even to defend themselves. If their sons were trained to fight at all it was likely quick and nominal when the need for conscripts that the Nephites required at the time is taken into account.

      I also don't agree with your points concerning David and Israel. You say that the people they killed were "relatively innocent", but only the Lord can know that. If His judgments are just, then he is allowed to answer the sins of the parents upon the heads of the third and fourth generations of their children. When the Lord dispenses blessings and cursings they are always multi-generational.

      And to be sure, killing by commandment is not the same thing as killing because you are warlike. Nephi, following his killing of Laban, actually drew closer to the Lord and stronger in the spirit. Neither that killing, nor his defense of his people by the sword ever made him warlike or bloodthirsty.

      As for ritual sacrifice, the purpose of the kill changes the tenor of the killings. Ancient priests, saturated in blood as they may have been, are not comparable to the carnage that is the trade of current popular culture. The symbolism referred directly to Christ's sacrifice, and their stained clothes to His clothes during the Atonement. Their atonements were performed at the temple. It was not comparable to the desensitization that Heather discusses.

  24. This is so well-written. I very much agree with you. Becoming desensitized, even when it seems harmless, can be a subtle but dangerous and damaging thing.

  25. In the debate you had with your friend at college, I couldn't help but think that if society or a group in society was "able to convince [us] that Buddhists" or any other group "weren't real people. That they were bad, different, threatening... alien", we'd be dealing with a second, more destructive social disease. Then I realized that there a still many groups today that really do have those kinds of tenets. It seems that the disease is on the decline but is so important to stand against. I would be interested to see an article with your thoughts on this.