In the last few years, tragedies seem to occur on a daily basis as the news media reports one horrendous event after another, until we have almost become numb to the shock value. School and church shootings, cities burning in street rioting, police brutality, teachers having sex with students, babies dying in hot cars, terrorist attacks, plane crashes, serial killers, government scandals, etc. And that doesn’t even include global warming, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and other natural disasters.
According to Rolf Dobelli of The Guardian, horrific news stories in your face day after day are toxic to your body by constantly triggering the limbic system. Horrific stories “spur the release of cascades of glucocorticoid (cortisol). This deregulates your immune system and inhibits the release of growth hormones.” In other words, your body finds itself in a state of chronic stress. High glucocorticoid levels cause “impaired digestion, lack of cell, bone, and hair growth, nervousness and susceptibility to infections.” The other potential side-effects include fear, aggression, tunnel-vision and desensitization.
It’s that desensitization effect that should concern us most. We feel helpless to do anything about the bad stuff going on around us, so we go deaf, blind, and dazed in our response.
Then a story becomes personal.
Last Sunday, my son in Georgia made his weekly call to me. This time he was deeply saddened by the loss of a fellow church member who played with him in the church orchestra. That Sunday, his friend’s chair in the orchestra was empty except for a Marine flag displayed on the seat.
A native of Marietta, Ga., Lance Corporal Skip Wells was one of the five servicemen killed in the attack last week on a Navy/ Marine Corps Reserve Center in Chattanooga. Only 21years old, he had just arrived in the city for reserve training and was slated to be there for two weeks. He played the clarinet, enjoyed church activities, Civil War reenactments, and loved being a Marine. His last words, by text, were “active shooter.”
Those who died with him were also someone’s son, brother, father, husband, and friend.
Navy Petty Officer Randall Smith, Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Sullivan, Marine Corps Sergeant Carson Holmquist, and Marine Corps Staff Sergeant David Wyatt died along with my son’s friend. A police officer and a Marine recruiter survived their injuries.
They were helpless to defend themselves due to the current rules prohibiting concealed carry on military facilities (military police being an exception). In order to use a gun for any purpose, it must be registered and checked out from the armory. In previous attacks on state-side military, two mass shootings occurred when Nidal Hasan killed 13 and injured 30 at Fort Hood, Texas, and Aaron Alexis murdered a dozen in his attack on the Washington Navy Yard. Again, soldiers were at the mercy of the shooter and no way to return fire.
To add to the pain and grief of the families of the men lost at Chattanooga, the totally insane members of Westboro Baptist Church have announced plans to protest at each of the five funerals. Claiming that God Himself sent Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez to the military installations in Chattanooga, they blame the killings in part on the acceptance of gay marriage in the U.S. The church (if we can really call these nuts a “church”) said it would protest the funerals as a “helpful message."
I’ve been guilty of letting the flood of awful news wash over me, leaving me almost insensitive to the tragedies that tear at the very fabric of humanity. Like most folks, I suspect, I feel helpless and hopeless about things getting any better.
But I’m not going to take the advice of some sociologists who say we should avoid reading the newspaper and listening to the TV news because it’s toxic to our systems. That may be true, but it’s dehumanizing to tune out the evil in this world. We almost stop caring about the pain of others because it’s not in our family, not in our selfish little bubble.
The heartbreaking story of Skip Wells and the grief felt by his family and friends has re-awakened in me the sense of caring I’d almost lost.
I’m not sure what I can do about any of the malevolent acts reported day after day, but I’m reminded of Edmund Burke’s observation: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
At least, for now, I can still take evil personally.
Mary Ready of Destin is a twice-retired English teacher and long-time area resident. Her columns are published on Saturdays.