“…90% of registered Syrian refugees in urban areas have fallen below the national poverty line…” – Alex Whiting
“…thousands of families are living off of less than $4 a day…” – Brian Jonson
Numbers. Numbers. Numbers. Statistics are everywhere. We’ve used them to support our arguments, to gain research information, or to make a presentation. They are prevalent in all fields of study, especially in situations like global warming, social injustice, and poverty. But can you, off the top of your head, pull out five statistical pieces of information regarding any of these problems? Maybe even three? I know I can’t. Then what’s wrong? Why is recalling a couple phrases of facts such a challenge for most of us when we’re exposed to numbers all the time? Maybe… it’s because they’re ineffective… Wait, what?! You must be thinking, “Who is this guy making these outrageous claims all of a sudden? We were all drilled to utilize this concrete, undeniable type of data for years and years, and this guy is now brashly shaming them?” Before you pummel me with rebuttals, let me explain.
Infographics displaying bright charts, complemented by the overwhelming amount of information on there act as quite an intimidating display of graphics, but barely anyone has addressed their invisible threat permeating throughout the internet originating from these diagrams. These visuals, counterintuitively, lack one of the most crucial elements when it comes to relaying a message: making it memorable. More specifically, messages these days concerning the millions of struggling Syrian refugees only focus on wowing the audience with brief statements of numbers, only to have them forget it as soon as the readers click on another link. Ironically, these articles, meant to raise awareness and provide meaningful information to readers worldwide, have qualities more similar to entertainment programs than anything else.
Messages are meant to create an impact–an impact that will be engraved into the minds of readers worldwide, to eventually lead to a movement supported by millions. But boring the readers with interminable permutations of numbers and percent signs will only erode the connections between us readers and “them.” It strips away each refugee’s individual struggles, and we eventually see all refugees as just a single, giant group of people stamped with mundane facts and symbols. Can we really make an impact on ourselves if we continue representing refugees like this? To me, I think it’s pretty clear that we need a change. Urgently.
But then what should we do?
We tell stories. Are you going to remember the percentage of Syrian refugees that are under the poverty line? Or are you going to remember that a 7-year old boy is working as the only wage-earner in his family, selling boxes of tissue on the streets every day whilst getting harassed by strangers? After reading Jonson’s quote above, don’t you question yourself by asking what it even means to live off of $4 a day? Does anyone even know what life is like with that much money on your hands? Or should we translate this number to reveal the prevalence of struggling families that are too poor to afford proper shelters, huddled around campfires fueled by scraps of scavenged plastic and trash?
All of us crave stories. They’re interesting. They’re engaging. And above all, they’re memorable. Stories spark the passions within each of our hearts, not statistics. Have you ever heard of anyone fighting for a cause because of what they saw on an infographic? No! It is because people listen to personal accounts and have their own stories to tell about these causes, which in turn ignites their personal desire to create a change. With so many news articles prioritizing statistics or quotes from public figures, this refugee crisis did not create nearly enough of an impact as it should have had. So, I urge every reader:
Go listen to some stories.
Jonson, Brian, et al. “Syrian Refugee Crisis: Facts, FAQs, and How to Help.” World Vision, World Vision, 21 Dec. 2017, www.worldvision.org/refugees-news-stories/syrian-refugee-crisis-facts.
Whiting, Alex. “Running out of Resources, Syrian Refugees Fall Further into Poverty, d.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 5 July 2016, www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-refugees/running-out-of-resources-syrian-refugees-fall-further-into-poverty-debt-report-idUSKCN0ZL24L.