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When Violence Stops Being Shocking

by | Jul 11, 2016 | Planet Matters

Have we become resigned to violence here and abroad? I fear my reaction to news of late suggests the answer is yes.

Dallas. Charleston. Baton Rouge. Ferguson. Orlando. Paris. Belgium. Bangladesh. Syria.

These are just the largest and most recent locations of domestic violence and international terrorism. And while they serve as examples of the threats we face, they also represent, much to my dismay, the point where in my own mind, shock and disbelief slipped away.

Not only has my reactions to stories in the news about these attacks stopped surprising me, if there hasn’t been such an event over a few week period, I hear myself saying ‘it’s been awhile…we’re due.’

We’re due? Can that really be where my mind has retreated in regards to death and murder? And am I the exception or the rule?

I’m a fairly aware person, I spend a good deal of time following the news, and researching matters related to the underlying emotional and rational causes for violence. So perhaps my recent lack of outrage has more to do with my analytical view of these events, and less to do with not being empathetic to the situation.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I am the exception to the rule. While listening to many people both in the media and in my own discussions, I hear the outrage over the violence and the desire for it to end.

But I also hear a lot of resignation in those same voices, that we are in a feedback loop of violence, where one act begets another, and one plea for an end is met with an equally forceful lack of inaction. And so it goes.

Thankfully I can say I have not directly been affected by such an act of terror or violence. But that also worries me because many have…not just here in America but around the world. In fact for some it is a daily occurrence.

Think about last week in America….two well-publicized police shootings…numerous protests…one resulting in a seemingly lone gunmen killing five police officers and wounding others…political statements, prayer vigils, flags flying at half staff.

Now consider being in the Middle East, where places are being bombed daily and people live in constant fear that any time a group gather, there is a chance they will die. Where hundreds of thousands have died over the last few years.

I make this point not to diminish the severity of what happened in the US, but to make the point that, on a measure of scale, there are other parts of the world that have been facing this “new normal” of violence longer and to a much greater degree.

Which leads me to wonder, have we spent enough time thinking about the generation (or possible multiple generations) of people who will view violence not only as a fact of life, but the preferred method of bringing about change…for good and bad?

What are the psychological effects of a constant barrage of gunfire, bombs exploding from suicide vests, bombs dropping from the air? What about the effects of an entire community of people feeling they are being targeted because of the color of their skin?

Here in America the media in its 24-hour news cycle fervor seek out “meaning” behind these attacks, but then they quickly pivot to qualify their findings with statements dismissing those beliefs as irrational and incongruent with the way our society works.

But the same can’t be said elsewhere in the world…and truthfully we don’t always strike that chord here either.

So to what end will all this violence result? Are we at the cusp of a decades-long struggle to combat not just ideologies, but the belief that violence is the only tool that one can use to achieve a desired result? Is it possible that we in the West are playing catch-up to the Middle East in terms of violence seemingly being the norm and not the exception?

With all the hope in the world I want to say the answer is no.

But I am resigned to admit that as of now, the best I can say is I don’t know.

Robert Westfall

Robert is a writer, behavorial researcher and decision-making consultant. He is the founder of Instinct, a firm specializing in helping organizations be more human focused and planet conscious.  You can learn more about his work at www.TheHumanInstinct.com and follow him at twitter.com/WeAreInstinct

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