CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- "The Tragedy in Tucson." Another catchy name for the latest devastation.
While I'm generally an upbeat, glass-is-half-full kind of person, I admit the cumulative effect of incidents like this can take their toll. At least temporarily. While I'm in this mindset about mindless violence, the phrase that keeps echoing is "restoring one's faith in humanity."
Of course, this is an individual journey. Just as there seems to be overwhelming incidents of negative behavior, there are numerous examples of selfless, charitable behavior in this human race of ours. It just seems that the light shines brighter on the dark things. What irony.
My research turned up everything from heartwarming stories to our society's desensitization to violence. And I had a strange reaction. Rather than feeling inspired by the heartwarming stories I came across, I found myself getting impatient and feeling anxious. It's as though the positive stories were "covering up" and dismissing the real evil, rather than balancing it out.
As I dug deeper, I found one profound nugget that struck a chord. It actually centered on a very simple concept:
"The quickest way to restore one's faith in humanity is to help someone else in need -- anonymously, if possible."
That almost sounded too easy. And it seemed backward. After all, to restore our faith in humanity, shouldn't something nice be done to us, instead of the other way around?
That's the thing, though. Taking part in a selfless act puts the focus on the other person, who is likely hurting more than we are at the time. It switches the perspective. Which leads to a sense of fulfillment and gratitude.
Still, I found myself reflecting on the divisiveness in our country, not just politically, but on a lot of levels. Flashback to Sept. 11. With this date, we don't even need to attach a year. While I would never script another scenario like that, I find myself longing for the temporary side effect that came out of that tragedy.
For a short while, it brought us all together -- in grief and disbelief. The common bond we shared was greater than the individual differences we had with one another. I'm not sure when it started to unravel. Was it six months? A year? All I know is that it was way too short.
Does it take a common tragedy to create unity among us? If so, it's not worth the price. If not, how else can we achieve the goal?
First, let's look at some of the reasons we've become divided. Freedom of speech, a good thing upon which our country was founded, creates outlets for expression. News cycles that run 24/7 provide lots of bandwidth. Economic pressures abound. Cultural differences proliferate. Communications channels, thanks to technology, are much more personalized, leading to more individual choices and fewer communal interactions. And there are individuals or groups in our society that have become disenfranchised and have channeled their energies in destructive fashions. What on earth could lead someone to be a suicide bomber or to randomly gun down fellow humans they don't even know?
Dr. Bruce Perry is an internationally recognized authority on brain development and the long-term effects of childhood trauma on the biology of the brain. He has served as a consultant on the Columbine High School shootings, the Oklahoma City bombing and the Branch Davidian siege and is often asked, "Why didn't anyone see this coming? How can we prevent something like this from happening again?"