As I’m sure many know, Paris, France underwent massive, widespread terror attacks throughout the city on Friday, November 13. An estimated 129 have been killed solely in a concert arena, and many more have been murdered and brutally injured. The attacks are thought by many to have been a retaliation against France’s involvement in military efforts against the prominent terrorists in Syria, however no one has reached an affirmative conclusion.
The thoughts that raced through my mind when waking up to the news varied across worry, grief, anger, and disbelief.
How? Again? Again… But it is still so shocking. So shocking that something can happen like this in the first place. History has seen innumerable acts of violence, back at home in the U.S. there has statistically been a school shooting every week in recent years, and the world will likely continue to witness these atrocities. But I am still left speechless. Angry. Upset.
Inspired to do something, but what?
For two years now I have been working towards my degree in psychology, in attempts of eventually working in the field of cognitive neuroscience. My vision is to conduct research in compassionate behavior, to attempt to discover ways in which we might be able to motivate the brain to think and behave more compassionately across several areas. Yet it seems as though there are so many hurdles in academia, in research itself. I had begun doubting whether I actually wanted to continue pursuing my current goals, but every day I am reminded of the possibilities it could open. How much it means to me, and how much it could mean to someone else.
It is dumbfounding how a person, or a group of people. can dismiss the life of a human being in the instantaneous click of a gun. The bullet whizzes, a small piece of metal made by man, and instantly trauma and grief can be felt spread around the world. A life is gone, the future sorrows, joys, and discoveries that make up our beautiful world come crumbling down into a pile of shattered mothers, fathers, siblings, friends… Strangers with which they might have crossed paths.
I question these things because I am desperately optimistic. I believe the world is good, that people are kind, and that everyone has a right to experience happiness. I believe in the brightest aspects of our fluctuating lives, and am in some ways blinded to the brutal darkness of what might actually exist.
I stood in front of my bathroom mirror confused and determined. Determined to help people grow into more compassionate beings, determined to be more compassionate myself. Confused because, and I mean this for no debate, for no offense, and for no doubt of my hatred, anger, and disbelief at these recent acts of violence, confused because I am not sure who to blame. Or if I can blame anyone in the first place. Had these individuals been raised in different environments, had these individuals not followed whatever beliefs or leaders they relentlessly did … Would things have been different? The regimes that many terrorists live their lives by, in one way or another, promote supremacy or a futile hatred against another group of people. If this is what you know, what your family and friends know, how easy or difficult would it be to break away?
What scares me is that, if I were put in the same situation, I can not be 100% sure that I would not have committed the same acts of terror and violence. If I was not born in a middle class family, raised by loving parents, mentors, and friends, did not grow up in a liberal community, and never received a modern education, then what? If I was raised in the exact same conditions, and shared the exact same experiences as did the individuals who committed the atrocities seen across the world: Who would I be?
My point is, if compassion is the answer to the turmoil we now witness, is hatred the starting point for progress?
Everything I am bringing up pertains to my own experience, and whoever else might be sharing the same thoughts. I cannot wholly understand the viewpoints and indescribable situations of those who have lost loved ones in these acts of terror. I am able to say these things because I am not as intimately affected as others might be. Had I been, I would likely be occupied with hatred and anger. Which is okay, understandable, and natural. While I cannot understand the trauma and grief as those who are experiencing it, I empathize with every nerve and cell in my body. My chest is heavy, my thoughts are sullen, and my visions are refocused for the families and individuals affected by these atrocities. I stand by you, in all my being.
In the end, I find myself hating not a person or a group of people, but the conditions and interactions which lead to the heart-wrenching violence and conflict seen throughout the globe. The terrors that break our worlds apart and force us to see what needs to be changed, whilst leaving us without any sense of direction.
In the end, I find myself hoping and thinking of ways in which these conditions and interactions might be overcome by a global trend towards compassion. Compassion as a lifestyle, a personality, a common way in which we might all learn to live our lives.