I try to be as honest as possible when writing my responses to the documentaries we watch. That being said, I felt like there was an immense amount of information discussed during Part 5 of Have You Heard From Johannesburg?. So much so, that I’m unsure if I completely understood the events that took place. Regardless, I will try to do my best in relaying my thoughts on this documentary, as it was really quite motivational and powerful. However, this preface serves as a caveat in case I make any egregious errors in my post due to my uncertainty on all of the events discussed in Part 5.
Being an OT major, one of our program requirements is to take Neuroanatomy as well as Neurobehavior. While this may seem like a useless tidbit of information to share, I do so because I couldn’t help but be reminded of some of my lectures about the human brain while watching this documentary. Mirror Neurons aka “Monkey see monkey do” neurons are a set of brain cells that mimic what they see — basically, the same neurons fire when you see something and when you do something. While this may seem unrelated, the implications of this discovery are the important part in relating it to the documentary. These neurons are what tie us with our actions, but also with our feelings. In other words, they allow us to feel empathy.
Empathy, is what I felt to be an integral aspect of Part 5 of Have You Heard From Johannesburg? as it was empathy that ultimately mobilized many American people to support black South Africans. The most obvious place I saw empathy depicted in this documentary was in the portrayal of civil disobedience. By seeing individuals participating in this cause, other people began to mimic this behavior and began to engage in the same activities. Not only did American’s empathize with black South Africans, but they empathized for those in the country trying to mobilize a cause to no avail.
While I recognize that this is a positive, glass half full kind of mindset, the fact that it is scientifically proven that human being’s brains are anatomically wired to connect to other human beings forces me to see the inherent ‘good’ in people. This theory stresses the importance of human beings be socially interactive beings as it it through our interactions with others that we learn new things, and have adapted and evolved into the advanced creatures we are today. In quoting a woman from the video as she explains her reasoning for participating in the movement,
“I spent all my life trying to stay out of jail but I just have to do this because it’s the right thing to do.”
Would she recognize the necessity of participation in this movement had she not been able to witness the effects of the movement and been able to connect to others around her?
This relationship is also what, in my mind, made the role of the media fundamental to the success of this movement. As the documentary pointed out, the reason why South Africa began to censor and ban media coverage in the country was because,
“the United States is a television driven country… if it is not on the TV than it does not exist.”
Why does that matter, you may wonder?
After all, American’s had heard about the injustices in South Africa time and time again… Well, in the context of these mirror neurons, it is because the TV allows us to see and feel what people on the other side of the world are seeing and feeling. It connects us. It allows us to feel what they are feeling, or empathize with them. It was through the media that this connection was possible and ultimately what ignited a fire in the hearts of many American’s to support civil disobedience and the divestment movement against apartheid. This theory of mirror neurons points out how important the role of the media was in gaining the support of the United States and ultimately overcoming the apartheid regime.
Therefore, I believe that the relationship between our anatomical make up, specifically mirror neurons, and the media was a critical component to the success in overcoming apartheid as it “brought human faces to a cause” allowing Americans to empathize with individuals on the other side of the world.
Just to play devils advocate however, I can’t help but wonder if the mirror neurons that ignited a movement to end apartheid were the same neurons responsible for mobilizing the apartheid regime in South Africa. When we see good, we will do good. However, what happens when the things these neurons are mimicking are gruesome, horrific, and evil acts towards our fellow human beings?