The Horrific Cannot Become the Routine

Where do we possibly start?

How can we possibly do anything except fall grotesquely short in our outrage over what happened last night in Charleston?

Where do we begin in the perversely familiar and scripted landscape of what should never, ever be scripted?

How did a post like this become routine?

How is it that bloggers and commentators and pundits and academics will all weigh in (yet again) on what is at once both a tired and awful occurrence?

How did I eat a breakfast bar this morning while I listened to the news on the radio?

Just another drive to work, I thought, where the news is again pickled with hate. Just another barely conscious effort in my unfortunately well-practiced suppression of reality.

I don't, of course, know much about the alleged shooter. I know only what I've read, and I know that that, as always, more details will emerge. I'm not even really writing about him right now.

I'm trying to figure out what to do.

Some of us will intellectualize.

Some will cite studies about the polarizing effects of social media, of the poisonous means by which divisive and despicable beliefs can spread with the alarming alacrity of a medieval plague.

Some will note our natural tendency, certainly well established now through the course of human history, to be tribal, to form camps, to think dichotomously rather than collectively.

Others will turn to the numbers, play the statistics games, cite the relative infrequency of mass shootings, remind us (as I've done in the past) that these events remain thankfully rare.

And some will of course co-opt these issues and make them their own.

Pro-this, anti-that.

Us and Them.

We all know those issues. We can't seem to get beyond screaming them at each other again and again.

But what do we do?

People are bleeding.

There will be a time for pundits and scholars and activists.

There will be a time for someone to remind me that I am privileged.

There will be a time when I am advised that I have no business writing this post.

And there will be a certain level of legitimacy to all of these objections and all of these conclusions, and all of these objections and all of these conclusions will undoubtedly be tossed around (as they always are) in the inevitable "aftermath" and "the making sense of" and in "the attempts to understand."

But now?

Now we must guard, like never before, against the horrific becoming routine.

Now we need to figure this out.

As a species, we love to form camps and to take sides. You'll even find cogent neurobiological and social arguments that we're wired for this kind of polarity.

But, as it turns out, and this is hardly breaking news, as a species we always do better when we break down those same barriers.

We have far more in common that we have different. That's what makes our differences so hard to tolerate.

And that, more than anything else, is why we need, urgently, to learn how to tolerate the differences.

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