Yesterday was a sad day.
I was giving a tour to a group of Australians when I heard the news. A text from a close friend revealed what had happened.
“Dude. Bombing at the Boston Marathon.”
I immediately googled the incident, which had occurred just 30 minutes prior. News station information was limited; the cause, the death toll, the number of injuries were all unknown. Then I got on Twitter.
People were sending live (and extremely graphic) images from the scene. There were tweets offering first-hand accounts of what had went down. #PrayforBoston was trending and fingers were already being pointed towards anyone who could be labeled with a derogatory name (well done, New York Post. Very professional).
The information was vast and varied. I shared what I knew with my guests, who were rather shaken by the events as they had just flown out of Boston that morning. The students asked why these sorts of things always happened in America and whether or not we were safe in DC. I said I didn’t know.
It seems that we have entered a new era of domestic violence in the United States. Every few months a tragic event happens.
I don’t remember it always being like this. Of course, this could be the result of my age. Being only 23, there are many things that occurred during my childhood that have not left the same impression on me as more recent tragedies simply because I was too young to fully understand them at the time. The race riots of the 1960s are something I learned about in school rather than experienced. I can only imagine the fear, grief, and chaos that erupted following the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in April of ’68, and then the death of Bobby Kennedy just 2 months later. It must’ve been very scary.
There are some tragedies that I know from memory rather than a text book. I remember Columbine. I remember Virginia Tech. I remember September 11th. But lately it feels as if the words ‘school shooting,’ ‘bombing,’ and ‘massacre’ have become a part of our daily repertoire as Americans.
I’m not going to sit here and claim to understand why all this is happening. Yes, there are certain factors that I believe contribute to the recent increase in acts of mass violence — namely inadequate gun control laws, a poor mental health system, and pernicious societal stigmas plaguing those who suffer. However, mostly I’m just confused and saddened by the consistent tragedies striking our country. Such unnecessary cruelty will forever remain incomprehensible.
Yet, there is one thing that scares me almost as much as the events themselves: our desensitization to these tragedies.
The frequency of these sort of happenings has created a new normal in society. We are programmed how to react in the face of death and disaster. Facebook pages are immediately created in honor of victims. Hashtags offering prayer and support begin trending across the nation. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. But what scares me is the inclination to seek out and spread information on the most dramatic and heartfelt of tragedies. It seems like simply knowing about the event isn’t enough. We want the gory, overly sensationalized details about how the victims suffered. The most popular stories are those of tragic irony and unparalleled heartbreak. People fabricate tales of dramatic suffering (“He was waiting to propose to his girlfriend at the finish line, but she passed away” — a story that leaked before any reports of deceased victims were released) as if it wasn’t enough to simply know that people had died.
Which makes me ask, why?
I believe it’s because we’ve become so desensitized to devastation that we pursue and devour the most tragic stories in an attempt to evoke real waves of emotion. We want to empathize and feel for the victims, but the frequency of these occurrences and the abundance of raw information available via social media has numbed our reactions — which scares the shit out of me.
I don’t know how to fix the problem. Hell, I too participate in it by similarly eating up any and all information, mostly in an attempt to understand.
But I do know that these things scare me and that I hope there is an end in sight.