In the wake of a tragedy as awful as the mass murders at mosques in New Zealand, it’s natural for people and institutions to wonder what could have been done to identify and prevent problems ahead of time.
Politicians mull tougher laws. Regular people feel helpless in the face of a worldwide culture that seems saturated with hate.
Police, meanwhile, brace for copycat crimes. Indeed, the suspect in this case claimed in his manifesto that one his main sources of inspiration was a Norwegian who killed 77 people in a similar shooting spree in 2011.
Hate and violence seem to breed more of the same, just as, on a smaller scale, insults beget retaliatory insults that seem to breed and grow like rats.
It’s a cycle that has become all too familiar as such tragedies seem to proliferate.
But if that is true, it also follows that love and forgiveness breed and spread as well. The only truly positive response to senseless violence, then, may be a resolve to begin spreading this countermeasure with greater energy.
In an essay for The Guardian last year, Eva Wiseman wrote, “We perform kindnesses in response to darkness and, in turn, our lives are improved. Which means that rather than old-fashioned or altruistic, kindness is as modern as it gets.”
In a recent interview with the Deseret News, American Enterprise Institute President Arthur C. Brooks spoke of actions that demonstrate love, and he urged people to develop relationships with people with whom they disagree. The opposite of love is fear, and humans tend to fear and denigrate those they don’t know.
One way to avoiding bad behavior, then, is to resolve not to be anonymous, especially online. “Anonymity is, in my view, inconsistent with fully human behavior,” Brooks said. “We have basically chosen to dehumanize ourselves, to say I am not an individual.”
And when people dehumanize, they tend to do bad things they otherwise wouldn’t.
We would place this prominently on any list of things average people can do to make the world better. Resolve not to be anonymous. Stand behind your opinions.
That list also would include airing differences with respect and an open mind. A good exercise is to habitually ponder how you might argue your opponent’s case. Doing so may not convince you of your own error, but it would help you see the opposition in a more human light.
But while civil arguments are important for peaceful human interaction, the real key to a better society is service. If everyone resolved to spend part of each week in voluntary service of some kind, many fears and animosities would melt away.
Utah consistently leads the nation in surveys that measure volunteer work. That kind of service tends to replace expectations of entitlement with a sense of one’s own responsibility to the well-being of a community.
We’re not suggesting a resolve to do these things would rid the world of hate and violence. Experts point to mental health issues that may have driven the suspect to do what he did last week. Racists and other hate-filled people feed off each other in dark corners of the internet.16 comments on this story
In this case, the suspect seemed to live a normal life on the surface. The New York Times quoted the vice president of a local gun club describing him as polite and eager to help set up and put things away during competitions.
No, getting to the heart of such an unspeakably evil deed can be complicated and confusing. But countering hate should not be.
Laws can help limit access to weapons. Institutions can help people with mental disorders.
But love, which undeniably would make the world better, must be spread on an individual basis. That is the one appropriate and meaningful thing everyone can do in response to such a tragedy.