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Toni Nagy Headshot

Empathy in the Wake of Tragedy

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In the face of these tragic events in Boston it is hard not to be consumed with anger. Rage and blame comfort suffering, or at least serve as a distraction from devastation. As much as everyone craves answers regarding the events in Boston, there is much to learn from this horrific occurrence beyond the details that have yet to be revealed. Although it is human to seek vengeance against those who have caused pain, if this mindset is maintained our geo-political atmosphere will forever be at war.

It is hard not to feel personally connected to these events, as it reminds us that America is not immune to war-like attacks. My Facebook newsfeed has been divided between furious status updates filled with wrath, and indifference because this type of violence happens all over the world -- often as a result of our military, and with less media attention. Some are feeling hateful towards those responsible, while others post "while the world is 'shocked' by Boston Bombing: at the same time 7 Palestinians were killed, 55 deaths in Iraq by bombings, 32 other random killings in Iraq, 12 deaths in Afghanistan... and we could go on... But 'less' important?"

I find all of these reactions legitimate, but wonder if they have to be mutually exclusive? Of course those directly impacted by loss will be in a state of mourning, but those of us observing this catastrophe in Boston have an opportunity to extend compassion not only to those in Boston, but also to those around the globe who live with violence as a part of their everyday existence. We can acknowledge the pain and fear that exists both here, and throughout the world.

America hasn't fought a war on its land since the 1800s. The majority of Americans have no idea what war is like to live with or the fear people experience in their daily lives because of our military activity. Besides the American men and women who are actually fighting on our behalf, most of us have been sheltered from the violence caused by wars. Many American children are taught in schools that war is good for the economy. As a nation we are disconnected from the human impact and instead told justifications and propaganda. Our physical distance keeps us ignorant of the real consequences.

Yes, terrorism happens, and yes there is the instinct to want to eliminate the terrorists that cause these events. But as we've learned, attacking entire countries does not combat terrorism, it actually inspires more people to become terrorists as innocent lives become casualties. It is impossible to fight wars and not risk the deaths of many who had no involvement. This creates individuals who then feel like they need justice against us -- feeding into more terrorism. And in turn we want justice against the terrorists who attack us. But where does it end? September 11th was organized by an extremist, but the U.S. government waged wars we are still fighting today on the countries that were unfortunate enough to be associated with terrorism.

The ancient Greek drama of the Oresteia is a trilogy that examines the concept of revenge. An endless cycle of death is perpetuated by an eternal state of avenging and by a paradigm of retaliation. Violence, murder and war are all the offspring of this mentality. You killed someone close to me, therefore I kill what is sacred to you. Gandhi said it perfectly: "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind."

A judicial system was created to hold people accountable for their wrongdoings in Oresteia. Rather than having countries going to war because of the actions of the few, there has to be more of an effort put into the global court system for rendering justice against terrorist acts -- which according to Noam Chomsky, the United States is the only country ever to be convicted in the World Court of terrorism. If events in Boston only elicit more divisive energy and hatred towards other nations, we are missing the point. In order for this culture of war to change, birthing empathy from these types of experiences is the first step.

I hope that the Boston Marathon tragedy will inspire us to connect more directly to our sense of empathy. Empathy is not just about identifying with another person, but also relating to them so completely that actions change as a consequence. Perhaps we'll see that what happened in Boston was not a random act of terrorism; it was like any act of combat. As much as it pains us to experience this on our soil, we have to acknowledge that this is the price of allowing our government to be in a constant state of war, an act which also creates terror in the lives of innocent people everyday. If we want to be safer here, we have to commit to making it safer everywhere.