TOSH: I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s incredible.
MARY: It’s more than incredible. With this, you can read people’s minds. It levels the pitch between man and God.
In Greek Bearing Gifts. Tosh is given a pendant that allows her to read minds. She is able to hear the thoughts of almost every single person that she comes into contact with. (Captain Jack being the exception). For many people, such an ability would be amazing. We would be able to cut through all the bullshit and be able to tell immediately when someone is lying. There would be very little question about who our true friends are. And we could help prevent disasters. We could solve murders, foil terrorist attacks, pinpoint rapists, abusers, etc. Mary, rightfully, describes this ability as leveling the playing field between humanity and God. Omniscience-or being all knowing-is a characteristic that many attribute to a deity figure. And many take great comfort in the idea that there exists an all knowing deity figure whose knowledge is tied with his/her omnipotence. (being all powerful). Many people would enjoy having even one characteristic that is often associated with divinity. Yet, as Tosh quickly finds out the good is balanced-maybe even outweighed by the bad.
When Tosh goes to Torchwood, she is able to hear the thoughts of her co-workers. She learns about the fling that Owen and Gwen are having- which conforms that she will never have a relationship with Owen. She hears the sarcastic and mean spirited remarks her co-workers have towards her and she is exposed to the pain that Ianto tries so hard to keep hidden.
IANTO: (thoughts) Can’t imagine the time when this isn’t everything. Pain so constant, like my stomach’s full of rats. Feels like this is all I am now. There isn’t an inch of me that doesn’t hurt.
IANTO: I’m about to brew some of Jack’s industrial strength coffee. Would you like a cup?
TOSH: I’m, I’m fine. Thanks, Ianto.
The pendant quickly overwhelms her. The thoughts of others-her co-workers, strangers, immediately makes her distrustful of other people and causes her to despair over the amount of pain and suffering.
The pendant also leaves her open to manipulation. One would think that being aware of other people’s thoughts would prohibit her from manipulation, but her trust in that ability to read minds prevents her from being more suspicious of Mary, who we find out was using her all along to try and get home to her home planet. And because the pendant is how her species communicates she is able to affectively manipulate her thoughts and only communicate to Tosh what she wants Tosh to hear
Mind reading, does of course has its benefits. She is able to rescue a mother and son, from being murdered by their ex and father. However, though she was able to help someone, the good didn’t even begin to compare with the negative consequences of mindreading. There was so much pain and suffering that she couldn’t stop-so many people hurting that she couldn’t help.
At the end of the episode after Mary, a murderer who had been banished from her home planet is killed by Jack, Tosh is left to ponder what she has learned from the pendant, which she destroys since she views it more as a curse rather than a gift.
Mind reading, I believe is an ability that I am glad to do without. I have very little interest in being exposed to the inner thoughts of most humans. Though to be honest, there’s another “gift” “ability” characteristic, whatever you want to call it I wish I didn’t have. In the words of a character in another tv, show called The Wire, I have the unfortunate tendency to, “Givin’ a fuck when it ain’t your turn to give a fuck.” Meaning, I care too much. And this isn’t a struggle that is unique to myself. The people I look up too and admire-are those who gave a fuck even though they didn’t have too. People like Martin Luther King Jr, Edward Snowden, Thomas Drake, etc People who were willing to challenge society or the government and who sustained substantial loses. Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated. Edward Snowden has had his American passport revoked, and is living in Moscow away from family and friends. If he comes back to the United States he faces a lengthy jail sentence simply because he decided the American people deserved to know what the NSA was doing in the name of national security. Similarly Thomas Drake, a former senior executive at the NSA had his home raided by the FBI and his marriage and career destroyed, because he spoke up against the NSA illegal and immoral monitoring practices. The aforementioned, plus many many more people destroyed or lost their lives because they cared and dared to get involved. While I have serious doubts I will lead a movement or be forced into exile in Moscow, caring and advocating against the issues I am personally passionate about has led me to gain a snapshot of the ugliness of humanity.
After a period of engaging in social justice work, you get worn down from the ugliness and hatred in humanity. Things that should horrify become blasé. Of course the CIA tortured people and were given authority to do so from the highest authorities in the country. Of course the FBI frequently monitors Muslim communities and entraps poverty stricken Muslims in the so-called war on terror-even though left by themselves without federal meddling, said people wouldn’t have even thought about engaging in a terrorist attack let alone have the resources to begin planning. Of course the NSA circumvents the constitution. Of course our country is going to keep engaging in unwinnable wars, that’s how it’s been since 9/11. Police brutality? Not surprising at all.
And even worse, while one is passionately talking and advocating about the issues one cares about- one begins to realize that most people don’t care. Read the senate report on torture-shrugs, who has time for that? Anyway, most of the people tortured were affiliated with al Qaeda, so who cares? The government is spying on citizens, well if people have nothing to hide then they have nothing to fear, right? Or people point out, why worry about things we can’t change? The government will do what it believes needs to be done and they will justify it In the name of national security.
Caring can lead one down a rabbit hole, where it is easy to get caught up in the darkness, violence, and corruption of humanity. But unlike the pendant, which Tosh destroyed, that really isn’t and shouldn’t be an option for those who care-even if we care too much. We don’t need less people who care about injustice we need more. But it can get overwhelming and depressing to have to encounter the worst of humanity again and again. I find myself with Tosh, asking, “After a while it gets to you. It changes how you see people. How can I live with it? “