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The News from Manchester

If you follow the news at all, this week’s inescapable story was the suicide bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, in which 22 people were killed. After last week’s piece, in which I talked about the negative impact of taking in certain kinds of information, it feels salient to talk about the significance of this story.

As with the kind of story I wrote about last week, there’s nothing useful you can do with information about the bombing, but what’s different is that it almost can’t help but affect you. Coverage was ubiquitous. To filter out a story like this would require a deep commitment to actively avoiding pretty much every news source.

I felt deeply saddened by the news. Maybe it’s that it’s so easy to imagine myself in a similar situation. I know the feeling of leaving a big concert, carrying the glow of having shared a special experience with thousands of others, and so I feel a “There but for the Grace of God” empathy to all those affected by this horrific deed. It’s no mistake that terrorists target this kind of event, not just a place where a lot of people have gathered, but also a place of happiness, of celebration, of sharing the exuberance of life. Terrorism of this nature means to attack the social impulse in our society, to corrupt joy itself.

Terrorism seeks to create exactly the kind of emotional response that I’m experiencing. It is meant to engender sadness, to make the world seem more dangerous, to impose the spectre of itself every time we engage in the sort of aliveness we experience when we attend a concert, a sporting event, or similar. Terrorism means to attack our very sense of the world’s goodness, to corrupt our resiliency and our hope.

And the ugly truth is that terrorism achieves exactly that. Engaging in the act of imaginative empathy–that the people affected are exactly like me–creates exactly the result that the terrorist hopes it will. Furthermore notice that part of what is under attack here is our very ability and desire to empathize. Indeed, my taking the time to write about what happened and to grapple with how to respond is exactly the kind of response the bomber surely wanted. In some ways, my empathy and the response it calls for empowers the hideous people who did this in the first place. But to *not* feel this sadness feels monstrous. To disengage means dismissing some portion of my own humanity. Surely that is worse. Thus we are faced with the incredible corrupting power of political violence.

From the perspective of what we’ve been writing about here, the question arises, “How do we successfully use energetics to make a difference when this kind of thing happens?”

I wish I had some kind of answer, but I do not. I went into writing about this hoping I’d have something to offer, but I do not. Sometimes the world is a sad place in which people do awful things, and news about those awful things makes its way to us and affects our lives, and I don’t know what to propose to do about it, except feel the sadness because what happened is sad. I wish I could even hope that someday our embodied sense of shared humanity might develop to a sufficient level that political violence of every sort will be seen not as violence against the Other but as violence against ourselves. But even that hope feels empty, because the suicide bomber himself showed quite clearly that he had no qualms about violence against himself.

There’s no easy conclusion here, and that too is sad.

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