Why do I feel that I have to look?
In this era of smartphones, everyone becomes a videographer. The Web is crawling with cat videos, people doing dumb stunts, and moments of cinéma vérité in all sorts of settings and with all sorts of people.
And then, there are the disaster and carnage clips. Like those taken yesterday at the Brussels airport and on their subway system.
Why do I feel that I have to look?
Yet I do look . . . and, given the number of views of various clips and collections already appearing on YouTube yesterday, I’m not alone.
Part of the attractive power of disaster and violence footage is linked to our darker natures, to be sure. It’s a variant of the same perverse and powerful desire experienced by some who watch auto racing, waiting (hoping?) for the accident that will make things really exciting. It’s part of what drives large crowds to blockbuster films with overpowering special effects. (I recall with discomfort how often I heard people describing the 9/11 experience of watching the second plane hit the Twin Towers, or the towers coming down, as “like watching a movie.”)
If we carefully examine this particular motive force in ourselves, we probably won’t like what we find.
There’s certainly also an element of what simply might be described as curiosity. How does something like this play out? What does it look like? Even, at times, the question, Was it really that bad?
But I know there is yet another motivation, a far more noble one.
It is the desire to empathize, to somehow accept into our own minds and hearts some of the agony and pain of the victims of such cruel events. Whether or not a tragedy of this magnitude or this intensity ever has touched our lives, we seek to be touched by it.
It is that desire to put our arms around the victims, to hold them as they hurt, to listen and offer whatever hopelessly powerless words come to mind in comfort, even to stay with them until their final breath leaves them.
It is the call and the desire to be family.
For that is truly what we are . . . what we must be, if we ever are to see an end to this carnage.
There will be expressions of anger (again). There will be demands for justice, some that simply offer a microns-thin patina over our hatred and our desire for vengeance, others that are rooted in a desire for truth, resolution and even reconciliation. There will be allegations and cross-accusations aplenty.
And there will be more attacks, sooner or later, here and there, no matter how much we try to prevent them.
Because that is the nature of unbridled hatred, of the repudiation of the dignity of some “other” whose life can be sold or taken cheap. Once one has decided that the other is nothing but a target or an inconsequential piece of collateral damage, nothing save a miraculous conversion, a long period of intense and determined rehabilitation, a long-term incarceration, or death will deter the beast within.
Again today, more so than and yet just as every other day, we have a choice to make.
There live within us, according to an old story, two wolves. One urges us toward hatred and violence, the other toward compassion and peace. One is awful to see and deadly to encounter. The other is beautiful, powerful yet gentle.
The battle is fierce and life-long over which beast will prevail.
But we get to decide. Because, you see, we are in complete control of which beast wins.
It’s the one we choose to feed.