Stats that hurt

Cinco de Mayo festival, originally uploaded by coming2cambodia.

The other day I was having lunch with a psychologist friend here in Chile. She is taking a continuing ed class for the heck of it and threw out an impressive stat at the dinner table. The stat was that there are more suicides annually than deaths from war. Admittedly, it seems shocking.

Could it be true?

Here are my thoughts: it could be true depending on how you count war deaths and how you count suicides. That said, the way I count, it couldn’t possibly be true. When people talk about the war in Iraq they cite numbers of Americans lost. They cite numbers of soldiers in battle. They don’t really talk about the casualties of war. They don’t talk about the women and children in their houses. They don’t talk about the missiles, our US missiles, that go astray. Or the teenage boys who aren’t rebels but fit a profile (age, sex, and race).

Moreover, I would bet next months rent that the person making this statistic didn’t count the civil wars going on currently in Côte d’Ivoire, Sudan, and so many more countries. Somehow those lives are seen as less important. Those wars are seen as far away and not our problem. Granted, I have no idea where this stat came from or how it was composed. But I can’t see any other way than through an ethnocentric lens. It makes me sad.

That said, I talked to a friend last night; and while I talked to her, that statistic made my stomach do flips because it wouldn’t count her. She is back in Iraq; her masters in the states, where she was my classmate, completed. She is home. She arrived safely. She has been accepted to a Ph.D. program in the states. All she needs is paperwork and a visa and a new passport. Why does that feel like so much? Why does it weigh as if it is too much?

If she were to die, this woman who dreams of improving the economic security and social empowerment of women in her country, the statistician wouldn’t care. He wouldn’t count her.

I would.

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