Don’t Give Up*

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.


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36 responses to “Don’t Give Up*

  1. Some very important observations there Margot. It’s a dangerous world we live in. The inter-war detective fiction writers (Christie et al) wrote their stories in a time when we all needed to retreat from the horrors of war, bury ourselves in problem solving, mahjong, crosswords and the cerebral nature of a mirder mystery rather than the violence. In recent years it appears (if you look at the stats, not my bookshelf I hasten to add) we’ve develop a penchant for more violent and almost unbelievable levels of cruelty in or crime fiction. As fiction starts to mirror our reality, I often find myself asking, is it time to escape again? Hence my chosen genre.

    • Thanks for the kind words, D.S. You make a really salient point, too, about the sorts of fiction people read and write. I wonder if, as time goes on, we’ll continue this penchant for cruelty in our fiction, or whether the pendulum will swing the other way, as the saying goes. As for my own writing, I’m with you. I write crime fiction, so there’s always a murder or two. But cruelty? Extended brutality? No.

  2. PS in conclusion, perhaps we need to start writing about th sort of world we would like to live in, rather than the one we do live in.

    • Now, that’s an interesting point, D.S. ‘Food for thought,’ for which thanks.

      • I’ve spent most of this year so far writing children’s stories, interpreting the history of places, nature and the world around us in an effort to teach them to respect the world. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good detective mystery and Blake will be back but it’s so rewarding to teach through stories and to coin a phrase ‘children are our future.’ Perhaps if we can teach them to understand and respect the world they can start t build a better future in many ways.

        • I couldn’t agree with you more, D.S. Helping our children build a better world is critical. Hopefully working with them and teaching them self-respect, respect for others, and respect for the world, will also help them create a better world. We don’t know, of course, what the future will bring. But I do know that if we don’t teach children those lessons, it’s not going to be a very bright one. I love the idea of your working on that aspect of writing this year. And I’m fairly certain Blake would agree…

        • Thank you Margot, I think he’s enjoying his holiday somewhere hot!

  3. Col

    Horrifying time – I didn’t hear about it until I woke up this morning. It’s a difficult one regarding how little or more I feel regarding violence in real life, on the screen or on the page. I think I’m less sensitive to reading about it than I am viewing in a film. In real life I abhor it.
    If yesterday’s attack had happened in Basra rather than Manchester, I doubt that the headlines and the newsfeeds would have been same. Some lives seem to be more worthy of news than other, so thus have a greater value maybe? I’m not saying that myself, but that’s what can possibly be gleaned from the coverage.
    We need to retain our humanity – a good point.

    • You bring up something so important, Col. If you look at headlines – especially in Western news outlets – you don’t see the coverage of barbarity in places such as Basra the way you do if it’s Paris, Manchester, or another such place. Is that a sign of what we value? I’d like to think not, as I feel the way you do. I think that only by trying to stay human can we be aware that such attacks anywhere are a terrible loss to us all.

      And I think a lot of people are with you about finding violence in reading easier than on the screen. And in real life? It’s awful.

  4. As a Brit I greatly appreciate your kind words. My first thought, when I heard the news, was that my youngest daughter was at the Manchester Arena only last Thursday, to see Take That. It’s that sort of thing that really brings it home to you. She considers herself very lucky, and so do I.

    • Oh, so do I, Dawn!! That must have really shaken both of you up! I’m very glad to hear that she and you are safe. And at times like this, we all need to stand together, wherever we live…

      • Indeed we do all need to stand together. My daughter says it’s not going to stop her doing what she wants to do. She believes that you can’t let terrorists beat you. And she’s right.

  5. You know, Margot, it’s difficult to know how to react to these things, I find. On the one hand, if we show that it has affected us deeply, in a sense the terrorists win. On the other hand, how can we not feel it deeply, especially when children are targeted? I think we possibly react a little differently in Britain to other places in the west, because terrorism isn’t new here and it is a sad fact that these are not the first children to be targetted by people claiming to be acting in the name of whatever god they pretend to worship. IRA, UVF, ISIS – no big difference. Same tactics, same results. And so those of us who lived through the worst of the Northern Ireland horrors are – not inured, I don’t think – stoical, perhaps. Perhaps we know that making peace takes a long time and that wounded beasts are at their most dangerous just before they die. There will be more of these horrors, here and elsewhere, but in the end the only way our societies will lose is if we allow them to be changed through fear or hatred. Thank you for your thoughtful post.

    • And thank you, FictionFan, for your thoughts on this. You’re absolutely right that whether it’s the IRA, the UVF, ISIS, or another group, the resulting horror is still the same. Funny you’d mention the tragedy of the Northern Ireland Troubles. I remember thinking, when the Good Friday Agreement was signed, that we had finally taken a step forward. As you say, though, it takes a long time. That particular agreement, as you know, took generations. And there’s still rancor. This will take time, too. But I couldn’t agree more that if we don’t at least work for it, stay strong and refuse to give in to the hatred, we’ll never get there. I suppose that’s were stoicism comes in. In any case, thinking of you all today…

  6. Well put, Margot! The past evening and morning have been so difficult for all of us as this tragedy unfolds on our TV screens. I am heartened by the people who insist we rally together and not be afraid and that we resist the urge of some world leaders to close ourselves off, but instead to reach out to each other with support and love.

    • I couldn’t have said it better, Brad. We do need to work together and reach out to each other. That’s the only way we will ever get beyond tragedies like this one. Standing together and not giving up is part of how we show we will not be defeated by terrorists and their hatred.

  7. Eloquently put. I will never allow myself to shrug at violence or terrorism. On the same token but the other side of the coin, I also won’t allow myself to judge across a wide span.
    We are one. My heart is broken for all the friends and family of the victims. Sometimes there are no words to express the sorrow, but there are fighting words – we can and do stand together in this.

    • You put that beautifully, Lesley. We really can and do and should stand together. I grieve for those lost, too, and hurt for those injured. We can’t allow ourselves not to care and not to work for a better life. As you say, not shrugging at terrorism and violence doesn’t mean rushing to judgement.

  8. <>

    If I may, here’s a personal anecdote that might apply to your contact’s question: I’ve stated before I served in combat with the Marines during the Vietnam War as an 18-19 year old. My tour included the TET Offensive of 1968. We were in almost daily contact with North Vietnamese forces. After a while, the brutality of the situation “numbs” you. You no longer “feel” emotions as you should. In short, you become an “automaton.” You merely act. I believe that the shutting down, or dulling, of the emotions is a safety mechanism one’s body undergoes to prevent insanity.
    Unfortunately, violence is now so common and widespread that this might be happening on a societal level to a certain extent. And that’s a sad scenario. I hope this makes sense.

    • Thanks, Michael, for sharing your experience and your insight. I think ‘shutting down’ has to be a part of getting through combat as you did. Otherwise, as you say, insanity can result. And there’ve been plenty of combat veterans who’ve had serious mental health problems for that reason. As you point out, shutting down in battle is something you do. Shutting down as a society is a lot more dangerous. I hope it won’t continue to happen if that’s what’s happening.

  9. kathy d.

    Of course I am upset about the attack in Manchester and the deaths and injuries of so many people, especially youth and children.
    One thing that is forgotten in many discussions is that war causes more death and injuries of innocent people, including children, displacement and destruction than anything else — and on a broader scale.
    Look at what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Or the loss of life in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Millions died. Agent Orange still causes birth defects and destroyed lands in Vietnam. More bombs were dropped in that war than by all air forces in WWII. And then Iraq where “Shock and Awe” bombing in 2003 killed so many innocent people.
    Today war is going on in many countries. In Yemen, there is near famine. Hospitals are being bombed. And so on and so on.
    I don’t think that many people think about the victims or their families’ feelings and devastation in these wars. But isn’t all human life sacred? Is one life more important than another? This, despite how the media portrays the situation? I think we’re all obligated to try to stop weapons development and wars for the sake of human beings and the planet.

    • You’re right, Kathy, that whether it’s the bombing in Manchester, the killings in Yemen, or what happened in Cambodia, it’s the tragic loss of human life. And that should be upsetting in and of itself. The more aware we remain of just how tragic it all is, the more likely that we will find a way to stop it from happening again.

  10. Margot, your post always give me pause to consider a book in a new and different light such as this one has. We do seem to see more violence in our reading these days.Maybe it’s because there is so much around us that we do tend to close ourselves off from. We can read about it in our books and know 99 percent of the time justice will win and all will be right while in the real world that’s not the case. This reminds me of a friend of mine that was in law enforcement for over 22 years and saw some really bad things. Recently he was talking about one of those crimes and it brought tears to his eyes. He smiled at me and said you never thought you’d see that (tears) from me, did you? And he was right. He was always caring but never emotional in his work. He explained that he had to shut it out to be able to do the job day after day. He said the feelings were there but he just wasn’t able to show them and be able to do his job. Prayers and hugs to those in harm’s way yesterday.

    • Thanks, Mason, for sharing your friend’s story. As he said, sometimes people in law enforcement, first response, and so on do have to put their feelings aside to do their jobs. But they are still there. And perhaps you’re right that it’s easy to close ourselves off from violence, because there’s so much of it. It’s so important, I think, not to lose our humanity (and humaneness), though. If we do, then the terrorists win.

  11. We walk a fine line here, Margot, because we do feel the horror and suffering but we cannot let fear keep us inside our homes, barricaded against something that might happen in the future. Perhaps we appear to be hardened and oblivious, but I think we’ve just donned a suit of armor (figuratively speaking) so we can still function. Inside, our hearts hurt.

    • You put that very well, Pat. It’s true that it’s a fine line, too. It’s important that we not be imprisoned by our own fear. At the same time, that doesn’t mean we have to be, or should be, heartless. There is, indeed, a balance.

  12. Interesting musings, Margot. The attacks are so sad, so brutal, and so unnecessary. I’m not sure I agree with you about violence in crime fiction, though. If the author takes the time to show the emotional impact violence causes, then I think books of this type can be beneficial to others suffering the same fallout. If the violence is merely gratuitous, then yes, I totally agree. Many violent crimes aren’t easy subjects to write about in fiction. Hence, why they should be addressed with finesse, IMO.

    • You have a well-taken point about violence in fiction, Sue. If it’s done for the purpose of showing the emotional consequences, it can serve a purpose. To me, that’s part of the point of character development. When it’s done for ‘shock value,’ that’s a different matter. As you say, it’s all about the way it’s handled, the purpose it serves, and so on.

  13. Thanks for your thoughts on this subject, Margot. I can never put my feelings or reactions about something like this into words, coherently.

  14. Thank you for this, Margot. It is close to home for us. It’s an hour to the centre of Manchester from where we live. We go there to shop or go to the theatre. It is so shocking that children and young people were targeted.
    I am disturbing by the violence in some crime fiction myself. I avoid reading this kind of stuff and I don’t write it either. I think it does numb people to the reality of it.

    • I don’t write extreme violence, either, Christine. Nor do I choose novels where the violence is gratuitous and overly extended. To me, it serves no purpose, and it really can be disturbing.

      As to what happened in Manchester, I’m sorry to hear that you’re so close to it all. That must make it that much more difficult to deal with as you see the images and hear the newscasts. You were fortunate not to be there that night, but that doesn’t, I’m sure, make it any easier. I wish you and the people of Manchester well as everyone starts to put it all back together.

  15. I have friends and family in Manchester, and I have visited the arena with some of them – it felt close to home. We don’t rank these terrible events, all of them are dreadful, but there was something particularly awful about those little girls going out to dance and sing and have fun. And those parents who might have swallowed their concerns to let their children go to the event, thinking ‘of course she will be all right, I can’t be over -protective’ – I think all of us parents have been in that position, but we were lucky and came out unscathed.
    Thank you for your thoughtful words.

    • I didn’t know you had such close connections to Manchester, Moira. That must have made this especially difficult for you. You’re right that there’s something particularly horrible about the age of so many of the victims. As you say, we’ve all teetered on the edge of ‘should I say yes or not,’ and gone along with letting our children out into the world. We’ve been most fortunate that they’ve come back. My heart goes out to those whose children didn’t – so awful!

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