The news of yesterday’s suicide attack in Manchester is shocking and disturbing. My deepest sympathies to those who lost loved ones in the attack; I wish you peace and healing as you move on. My wishes, too, for quick recovery to those who were injured. Please know that millions of people everywhere stand with you as you cope. I hope that knowing you are not alone will help you stay strong.
One of my social media contacts asked a thought-provoking question about this attack: are we getting inured? Do we no longer allow ourselves to feel deeply about such awful acts of violence? If that’s true, what does that say about us?
Humans can adapt to a lot of situations; it’s part of how we survive as a species. There’s an argument, too, that if we really stopped and absorbed every suicide attack, every senseless murder, and so on, we’d be frozen into immobility. That’s true in life, and if you read crime fiction, there are many, many examples of it there, too. Fictional police, for instance, have to do their jobs, no matter what horrors they see. They can’t ‘freeze up.’ The same goes for fictional PIs, and so on.
On the other hand, becoming too detached doesn’t work, either. There are plenty of crime-fictional examples of characters who are so detached as to be thoroughly dysfunctional. They can’t do their jobs well, they can’t maintain relationships, and they can’t connect with the world enough to be dedicated to what they do.
There’s another way, too, that we can look at this question of how inured we are (or aren’t). If you consider the crime novels that are published each year, there are plenty in which there’s some brutal, ugly violence. Some of it’s quite gratuitous, too. And there’s arguably more of it than there used to be in the genre. A friend of mine once put it this way: you’ve got to out-Hannibal Hannibal Lecter. You may not read such books yourself, but they’re big sellers.
Don’t mistake me. I’m not arguing that such books shouldn’t be published. I’m too dedicated to freedom of expression for that. But it’s a piece of evidence that we’ve gotten accustomed to extreme violence in our crime fiction. And that makes me wonder what this says about us.
I know that people are feeling a lot of different things about the Manchester attack: anger, shock, sadness, and lots of other things. That’s only natural. If we’re going to retain our humanity, we need to feel those things about all the attacks we hear about, whether they’re at a concert, an outdoor market, or anywhere else, and wherever in the world they occur. Those feelings hopefully keep us from being too inured to others’ suffering. And hopefully, they help us to stop this needless violence, and keep us from behaving in inhumane ways. There’s enough of that in the world already.
My thoughts and wishes for peace and healing to those who lost loved ones in the Manchester attack, and to the injured and their families. We are with you.
NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a Peter Gabriel song.