How should we respond to tragedy?

Editor's Note: The following is an opinion-editorial.

Kyle Hammalian

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When you learn of a mass shooting, what is your first reaction?

26 people were killed and 20 others injured on Sunday at a morning service inside of the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. The small town outside of San Antonio has a handful of buildings and a population of only a few hundred people.

The death toll and casualty count don’t accurately reflect the magnitude of devastation a tragedy like this one can bring. In a small rural town, everyone knows everyone.

26 lives lost means families devastated. People ranging from 18 months to 72-years-old were injured or killed on Sunday. The victims aren’t statistics; they are mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, grandparents, husbands and wives. Family and friends lose loved ones to senseless violence.

When we really start to think about the suffering, it’s easy to become disheartened. I genuinely believe, though, that the only thing worse than having to come to terms with a tragedy is when we don’t feeling anything at all.

Desensitization is particularly relevant for our generation. We’ve grown up in a world where headlines about sadistic terrorist attacks and barbaric mass shootings are commonplace.

Sunday’s massacre took place merely 36 days after 58 people were killed and 546 were injured at a music festival on the Las Vegas Strip. This story, too, fell out of the news cycle after one week.

Think about this: how many mass shootings can you list off the top of your head? What’s the first one you remember? I can easily recall several: Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Orlando, Las Vegas, Fort Hood, Columbine, and Aurora. Some upperclassmen might remember hearing about the Sandy Hook shooting over the loudspeaker in middle school, but surely we couldn’t comprehend the brutality of it then.

As young adults, we can more readily comprehend the motives behind and implications of a mass shooting, yet many of us lack any sort of emotional response. When we stop feeling shocked, outraged, or troubled by tragedies, what does that say about our generation and our society?

Six days ago, I asked Pascack Hills students to react to a terror attack in New York City that killed eight and injured several others, and a common thread in our discussions was about the ease in which these incidents become irrelevant. Even cable news stations are self-aware about the fact that their cycle of stories must turnover sooner than later to stay relevant. Because of this, mass shootings easily leave the headlines, and subsequently our thoughts, after a few days.

It’s unhealthy to mull over a tragedy or constantly follow each breaking detail. But, It’s just as unhealthy for our society to disregard tragedies as a typical headline, and it’s frightening to think that the frequency of these incidents has made us desensitized to tragedy.

It’s too easy to submit to saying that this is just how society is today, or that these tragedies are to be expected. It’s easy to accept this as normal. More importantly, it’s dangerous, and we have to reject the idea that this is normal. We are not helpless, and we must talk about these issues and seek real solutions.

There are many difficult questions: How does an individual acquire the capacity to cause immense human suffering over the course of a few minutes? Is government doing enough to protect our citizens from this kind of tragedy? What are we, as a society, doing to protect ourselves?

How should our representatives respond to mass shootings? With tweets that extend condolences, or by putting forth legislation?

The answers to our country’s problems aren’t clear. The purpose of this article is not to politicize a tragedy, nor provide solutions. The problem isn’t that solutions don’t exist. The problem is that the frequency of these tragedies make us feel helpless, or even nothing at all, and so we neglect to discuss them. We must remember that change comes only after a dialogue begins.

Editor’s note: Unfortunately, tragedy isn’t new. I wrote an article two years ago discussing the importance of being vigilant over being afraid, and how we cannot let fear stop us from living our lives. See my article, Vigilance Over Fear for more.

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