It’s a sad truth to know, but the world we live in has gotten to a point where people have been reduced to numbers on a screen, to abstract bars and lines on colorful graphs that we’re told represent reality. This, unfortunately, has desensitized a lot of people and made it easy for them to make life-changing decisions for other people without feeling bad about it.

It has come to a point where, whenever problems that people face are discussed, people are given statistics, graphs, and reports to make it easy for those who are meant to deal with them able to say things like they are “doing everything in their power”, and that the “number” of those affected is dropping. As a result of this, with the numbers they present during these discussions, those in power are able to make life-changing decisions on behalf of others who, unfortunately, are never present at such meetings – and not have any emotional reaction to it.

It’s different for the real people though. While they are seen as points on a graph in boardrooms, their lives reflect a different reality. The decisions made on their behalf don’t just affect the direction a graph goes, they also affect their lives, their futures. Decisions about their lives are made in their absence, and the consequences of those decisions, change the courses in which their lives were heading. They are left to deal with the consequences of those decisions and they are most of the time left not knowing what to do.

There are many examples of this in the world today. For example, reports about crime and crime control are announced every year. And, with a few exceptions here and there, those reports are mostly positive: claiming that crime is dropping and that we are winning “the fight against crime”. But the other reality is that those reports hardly ever show just how this fight against crime is carried out. They never show how police officers use gratuitous force to deal with at most times innocent people, only for them to be seen as working. And also, just to know that the murder rate has gone down doesn’t lessen the impact of the murders that do happen.

Another example of people becoming statistics includes the decisions made by universities and other institutions of higher learning regarding their students. These decisions range from deregistration, to what the students’ course contents need to be, to which of the students need to be placed in which residence. And, because the universities are dealing with students as numbers (in the form of both the “student number” and the number of the student in the group), and not just a “Palesa”, or a “Thato”, or a “Refiloe”, it is easy for them to make those decisions without worrying about what they mean for the students.

That is not to say that the people making these decisions don’t care about the people on behalf of which they are making these decisions. In fact, you’d find that most of them actually do care. All I’m saying is that, because of the methods they’ve developed in dealing with people – moving from dealing with actual “people” to dealing with “numbers” – they have become desensitized to the sometimes negative impacts that their decisions have on the people they make their decisions for.

A new way needs to be looked with regard to how systems, be they private or public, deal with the people they come into contact with. A more humane and less numerical method that recognizes the people they deal with as people. True, this might make their work a bit more difficult, but it will also make it less harsh than it currently is.