Sunday, April 21, 2013

When Violence Hits Home for Us

It's been another week of violence and destruction.  Some friends recently reminded me that in many parts of the world, this is the norm.  Bombs and destruction and a permanent sense of danger.  In fact, some people are annoyed or angry that we in the United States make so much out of these events when they happen to us, while we ignore them in other parts of the world.

This attitude bothers me.  It's true that such terrible things happen with horrific frequency in many places.  But, that doesn't mean we shouldn't react with shock when it happens in the United States.  And carrying the shock and anger and despair of violence with us all the time is no way to function in our lives.  What's wrong here is not that we react when such violence happens in the United States. What's wrong is that the sense of safety we carry with us is so comparatively rare in the world.  What's wrong is that violence is the norm anywhere.

If we don't react with shock when it happens here, we are saying it's normal, or it should be normal.  Normalizing violence is no way to fight violence.  Denying people the right to feel shock and sadness and despair in the face of violence and destruction is no way to preserve our sense of humanity and compassion in the world.  Human beings have the capacity to be horrible, and they have the capacity to be magnificent.  When we feel shock and sadness and horror, and even anger, at violence, we are living up to our best selves.  When we ignore violence, sensationalize it, turn it into entertainment, glamorize it, indulge in it, we are living up to our worst selves.  The fact of violence in one place does not make violence acceptable in other places.  The fact that the level of destruction in one instance of violence is so much greater than in another instance does not make the lesser destruction any more acceptable.

It is human nature to feel most acutely that which touches us most closely.  When our own parent dies, we feel it in a way that we never will when our friend's parent dies.  That doesn't make us selfish.  It's honest.  So, yes, when a bomb explodes in Boston, I feel it more acutely than when a bomb explodes in a place I've never visited.  That doesn't mean I don't care about what happens in other places.

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