Yesterday, I sat in complete shock as I scrolled through The Atlantic’s photos of the devastation in Norway. I’d seen the bombed buildings and a few shots of people bleeding, but sadly that hadn’t registered much emotion with me. So much of that happens in the world. News of another car bomb is hardly novel.
But these photos were different. In particular, the photo that hit me was an aerial shot, grainy and distorted, thought to be of the shooter moving amongst the bodies of the teenagers he had massacred. What made the photo more powerful was the pixellation that Norwegian authorities had performed on the bodies. The shooter alone was recognizable as a person, white clumps of dots around him his victims.
It chilled me to the bone. There is something very, very dark in human nature; this all of us know. Yet when it manifests itself, we are shocked and horrified every time.
I believe this is why trials like Casey Anthony’s and murders like Jon Benet’s sometimes receive such long-lasting attention. We blame the media, and, sure, there’s an element of gawking. But I think it’s also a matter of facing our demons. We wonder what drives a person to act that way; to lose all sense of basic empathy for others. We recognize that something is very fundamentally broken about humans as a whole, and we try to distance ourselves from it. This is why there’s so much emphasis on reactions. Why “mentally unstable” is such a compelling excuse for plea bargains. And, yes, sometimes it’s true. But I think often it’s a relief, because it means we can stop thinking that an everyday, average human like ourselves could do something so horrible. Casey Anthony laughed. I wouldn’t have laughed in that situation! Who reacts like that? She’s not anything like me.
But she is like me. And like you.
Fortunately for us, there is a fix for human nature’s darkness: love. Love heals. It heals brokenness, it heals pain, it heals numbness, it heals loss, loneliness, low self-esteem. Love builds people up in the face of all of that seeks to tear us down.
Norway needs a whole lot of love right now. That’s easy; all of our hearts go out to Norway. But so do your annoying chatty coworker and your slimy ex-boyfriend (though don’t let that stop you from getting a restraining order). That’s harder. American culture has taught us that love is something you feel, not something you do even if there’s no emotion attached — or if there are emotions that seem to oppose love attached. I argue that the practice of love is far more powerful and lasting than the emotion itself.
To this end, Anders Behring Breivik, though words alone cannot convey my anger and disgust at your actions, I am truly sad for you and hope that someday you find healing.
Norway, my ancestral homeland, I love you.