Seeing The Forest


Friends of mine are on a trip to Australia at the moment, and flew over to New Zealand yesterday. They heard the news about the Christchurch shooting just before boarding. They’re in the middle of everything.

I’ve been seeing some stories about the perpetrators, and how their faces and personal stories need to be ignored, not broadcast for us to pore over in fascinating detail. It’s an old story. I don’t know how that works, anymore.

I do understand desensitization. It’s not only the perceived reaction of people, at least in this country, to the persistence of these events. It’s also often considered to be the cause, and I used to be one considering.

After Columbine, I blamed the parents. I was the parent of a teenager. I immediately decided they’d ignored signs, let these boys watch and play and do all sorts of things that, I guess, numbed and twisted their souls. It just feels so innocent now.

It never occurred to me that teenagers, even misfits, mistreated teenagers, were capable of being evil. When of course they are, always have been. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were psychopaths, apparently. Who knows.

I remember this ancient preacher, pulpit supply for a Sunday when the regular guy was away. He was 40 years older than I was, a relic, old-fashioned but not uninteresting, and then he went off on cable television.

Not in a loud, angry way. In a sad, worried way. In an old-person way. This broad, ill-defined category he decided to get upset about makes about as much sense as worrying about human nature, whatever that is. He almost certainly had cable television. I noted that after worship, there was a fundraiser downstairs in the fellowship hall and one of the sale items was a book published by The Discovery Channel. No one else seemed to pick up on the irony.

It’s not cable. It’s not TV. It’s not violent video games, although that’s always an easy target. There’s certainly something in the culture, but it’s not easy to put a finger on because culture is too big and messy.

So, while I suspect desensitization of some sort is going on, I doubt that we can pin it down, and even if we could I can’t imagine what we could do about it.

But I’ve been fascinated by the concept of neuroplasticity for years now, after reading about it for the first time, this idea that the brain is much more adept at rewiring itself than we previously thought. That we can change the way we think and act by practicing. I get fascinated by lots of dumb stuff.

I just note that I’m not following my friends’ posts, the ones now in New Zealand. I see them, but then I’m spending less and less time even glancing at Facebook. I haven’t engaged in 10 days, and already I’m out of practice. I get triggered. I resist, and so on. It’s really not that hard.

It may be the only way, too. Even after all this time, after the news of data mining and Russian tricks and Cambridge Analytica, we still apparently find appeals to our ego and self-esteem irresistible. Why else would smart, savvy people decide to answer “Bet you can’t name a city without an ‘A’ in it!” Anyone can name a city without an A. We feel compelled to let the world know that we can, though, so we feed the machine and we say, “It’s just a game” and we’re right. It’s just that someone else is playing it.

So maybe I desensitized myself. And maybe that’s what I’ll learn from this. As I said yesterday, it’s not a digital detox. I’m still connected, I still see. I still read. I don’t say anything, and more and more that feels like a really good idea.

Chuck SigarsComment