A Surprising Reaction to the Wisconsin Sikh Temple Shooting

by Nate St. Pierre on August 5, 2012

Just a few hours ago, a gunman opened fire on people at a Sikh temple here in Milwaukee, killing at least 7 people, and wounding a few more.

I was at the lakefront at the time, and was thinking about heading down to my uncle’s house to visit, but I ended up deciding not to go when I heard that Howell Avenue was closed because of the shooting (his house is a couple miles down that road). So this happened very close to me, and my surprising reaction is what I want to discuss today.

I’m not going to talk about any motivations of the shooter, or any religious/political stuff, and I won’t allow it in the comments, either. None of us know anything at the moment anyway, but more importantly, it doesn’t matter. A human life is a human life, and it doesn’t matter where/how/who/why – when people die like this, it’s a tragedy.

But when I sat down just now to evaluate what happened today and my reaction to it, much to my surprise, I found that I didn’t have much of a reaction at all. This is both puzzling and troubling. In the past, I’ve always been the kind of person that does very much feel these kinds of things. I was living in Denver during Columbine – I remember the constant sirens and dozens of emergency vehicles rushing past me, and when I learned what had happened, I cried. I wept openly during the World Trade Center attacks. I have shed tears for more than a few marketplace/public suicide bombings in the Middle East, far from home.

These types of attacks have affected me greatly in the past, as I’m sure they have most of you. But in thinking about the two most recent instances, both today’s events and the Batman shooter in Aurora last month (also a Denver suburb), my reaction wasn’t sadness and pain, or even fear. It was more like “Well, that’s life.”

So here’s the question: Have these acts of public violence become so commonplace now that we’re gradually becoming desensitized to them?

Something that came to mind as an example from my past was the neighborhood I grew up in here in Milwaukee – a pretty bad place in the inner city, filled with gangs, guns, and drugs. There were things that happened there every day that would horrify folks from the suburbs if they were exposed to it, but for us as kids, it was a normal part of life.

There were just certain things you didn’t do, or places you didn’t go, or people you avoided at all costs. If you didn’t, you could get robbed, beaten, stabbed, or shot. That was life. You adapt. And when you see or hear about these things happening in your ‘hood, you don’t bat an eye. You say “well, that’s life” and you move on. I came just seconds or inches from a violent death at least twice while growing up, but it barely left a mark on me, because it wasn’t out of the ordinary for where I lived.

I’m wondering if this kind of random violence is becoming ordinary for the world we now live in. Maybe it doesn’t matter who you are or where you live or what your neighborhood is like – maybe no one is safe anymore, ever. Maybe my mind sees this stuff happening all around and declares it to be the new normal, and nothing to spend emotional energy on. That sounds terribly harsh, but it may be true. It was certainly true growing up.

Then again, maybe it’s just me. Maybe for some reason I’m the only one getting desensitized to this stuff, because I’ve had a few more years of direct experience with random acts of violence than most people I know.

So that’s my question, in a long, rambling, trying-to-process-everything manner. Are we getting desensitized? Is that okay, or not?

What do you guys think? How do you feel?

(Comments are welcome, but please keep them relevant to random public violence, not political/religious bashing. Some people may think this is not appropriate to write about so soon after it happened, but for some people, writing/reading/talking about it helps them process. I am one of those people, so that’s what I’m doing here. Oh, and if anyone suggests that I’m writing this post to get traffic by capitalizing on a tragedy, you’ll be banned for life. Don’t be an idiot.)

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