In the Wake of Tragedy

In the wake of tragedy

When the numbness settles in, what does that mean? Have we given up? Is there still hope? Is there still a fight to be fought? Have we retreated back into our worlds and minds of complacency, comfort, and ignorance? Or is it a wake up call that we’ve normalized something that is not normal?

Normalization is necessary, to a certain extent. We need it to help us process, grieve, and understand situations that would otherwise be too emotionally distressing and trying to comprehend. Death tolls and dollars in damage are difficult to grasp. They mean nothing. There’s no way we can possibly imagine what 22 different grieving families are currently going through after the bombing in Manchester. Or worse…there’s no way that an American in a suburb can put ourselves in the shoes of a Syrian child who endures bombings, death, and destruction on a daily basis.

Tragedy is all around us. There is always senseless and inconceivable death. There is always an atrocity worthy of breaking news, tweets of sadness, Facebook profile picture filters, and blog posts. It is a constant and guaranteed thing in our lives, in this world.

But that does not make it normal.

We ask, “What is it all for?” Have our leaders become so callous that they continue to bomb innocents for years and years with no tangible or evident progress towards a goal? Have our religious institutions failed so miserably that extremists have become the representatives of centuries-old faiths? Have we lost all compassion and empathy for those who suffer because we cannot see beyond our own limited world views?

I do believe we’re a compassionate society…at least, we try to be. We talk about things like the Manchester bombing through tears, offering our prayers for the souls of the victims. We sympathize with the families, attempting to support them through their loss. We passionately and mistakenly point the finger at Ariana Grande, as though she had anything to do with it, because we need someone to blame. We rage against the Muslims – all of them – again. Our ever-so eloquent president calls the perps “evil losers.”

But, we also come together in our grief. We each deal with it in different ways, but we all grieve. No decent person wants innocent lives destroyed. Some of us get angry, some get sad, some get inspired to take action.

If there is a silver lining to any of this, though, it’s simply that there is unity in grief. There is understanding and humanity. People come together to help the victims’ families and to rebuild what’s been damaged, and for a brief and fleeting moment, race, religion, political party, or class doesn’t matter. None of it matters.

Life matters – what’s left of it.

And WE are what’s left of it. We’re the ones who are still here – hoping for a brighter future, fighting for peace and love, who only want to live happily and safely.

We’re the ones who still believe that we can live amongst one another.

This first step towards that is changing the way we think and do things, including the ways in which we react to tragedy and general bad news.

But this counts for so much more when it comes to terrorism.

When terrorists strike, the attack is only the first part. The death tolls, the audacity, and the element of surprise are not the worst of it, but they’re enough to rile up a world of people.

The second part – and arguably, the more damaging part – is the tweets, the Facebook posts, blog posts like this one, the passion, the anger, the fear, the divisiveness, and the misunderstanding. These are the things that tear us apart. These are the things that have long-lasting and deep-seated implications that permeate our society, each incident building upon the last, no matter how long ago it was.

For every “debate” in a comment section that ensues and every hate crime that takes place towards a brown kid at home, rifts grow bigger and prejudices seem more justified. Rationale goes out the window when emotions run high and people become impulsive – and dangerous. Our collective sense of reality becomes distorted and manipulated by fear and ignorance.

And that’s how the terrorists win. Really win. They don’t care about 22 lives. They care about breaking us.

I’ll leave you with this. Josh Radnor, or Ted from “How I Met Your Mother,” described the notion of behavioral contagion in his INKtalk. I think it’s pretty self-explanatory and something worth keeping in mind.

“Our behavior is contagious. We think we’re these autonomous, independent-minded operators who are making clear-headed decisions – it’s actually not true. We are porous, highly susceptible creatures whose words and actions are affecting each other constantly. We are in every moment taking cues from each other about who and how to be. We are wildly underestimating the impact we have on each other…We can be contagiously good…Scientists who work at eradicating disease, they’re not doing it so we can have a couple more years of being cruel to each other. We want more life, more time, so we can have more stories, more inspiration, more opportunities to be kind.”

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