Six Degrees of Separation from Daily Violence

800px-Boston_marathon_mile_25_050418_croppedWhen something terrible happens, we filter it through the lenses of our own lives. When I heard about the Boston Marathon bombing, I first thought of friends from Bowling Green, Kentucky.  Was Jeff running yesterday—with his wife and their young son cheering him at the finish?  Where were my three Boston-area cousins and families? Mel works for the power company just across the Charles River.  Was he there?

Most of us tend to play “six degrees of separation” when something like the Boston tragedy happens.

I ponder what is in the mind of some person or group who brings violence to an event that celebrates humanity.  Colorful flags from more than fifty countries flanked the viewing stands at the finish line, celebrating the runners who came to Boston from around the world.

As a journalist, I’m curious about the events and substantially more curious about how events are reported.  I am filled with questions, like:

  • Was this a homegrown terrorist on tax day near the site of the Boston Tea Party?
  • Was it just a steam explosion caused by some malfunction in the infrastructure?
  • Or was this part of a larger plot from terrorists abroad?

Like most of my species, I’m drawn to that last question.  Is this part of a larger plot?  With 9/11 as our frame of reference, it’s difficult not to gravitate toward that conclusion.

I am so sorry for the families of those killed and injured. It is a terrible thing that happened on a beautiful spring afternoon in one of our treasured American cities. Watching the media coverage,  I cannot help but be reminded of something that happened to me when I was an inexperienced reporter.

My job was interviewing an American diplomat who was stationed in the Middle East. She was back in her home town, shortly after the American hostages were released  by Iran. This was the news story of that period.  Americans held hostage for 444 days and released as soon as Ronald Wilson Reagan became President of the United States in January 1981.

I asked this woman, who had spent much of the last decade of her life assigned to the Middle East, how she felt about the hostage release?

To my astonishment, she rolled her eyes and said something like, “The hostage situation should be a wake-up call for Americans. The rest of the world lives under the daily threat of violence, and we are soft.”  She went on to explain how many countries experienced violence at weddings, funerals, and on the bus going to work.

That day, my 23-year-old rose-colored glasses became a little clearer.  This diplomat saw me as naïve and arrogant and made that clear.

While I  am deeply saddened by the violence of yesterday in Boston, I ponder that in context of what happens in the rest of the world every day. Shouldn’t Americans be long past the point of bewilderment by violence on our home turf?

Just this morning I culled these headlines off the Internet — “Violence returns to Somalia as 19 are killed;” “15 killed, over 45 injured in suicide blast in NW Pakistan;” “Nigeria Christian groups threaten retaliation;” and, “In Venezuela, 4 dead in post-election violence.”  Need I go on?

I am frustrated with a media that excludes other news stories for wall-to-wall coverage on this.

I am frustrated with the news channels that feature the same horrific video B-roll over and over.

I am frustrated with our collective impatience with new information and our rush to judgment.  JFK Library involved?  Saudi man held? World conspiracy?

My point is this: we live in a violent world. Let’s temper our reactions until we know what happened. Let’s let the police and federal officials do their jobs.

Our grandparents lived through a world war in which millions of people died and more were injured. In times of turmoil, we can look to their example of, as the Brits say, keep calm and carry on. I’m not suggesting we all start rolling rubber bands or tinfoil; what I am saying is that we resist a violent world by bettering our own communities. Find something in your community that needs doing. And perhaps, turn off the television until we know the real story.

Contributor Amy McVay Abbott is an Indiana writer whose column “The Raven Lunatic” runs in a dozen newspapers and magazines.  Follow her on Twitter at@ravenonhealth, at her web-site or as Bernadine Spitzsnogel on Open Salon. She likes to hear from readers at

  • Therese Baronowsky-Asher

    Poignant insight and a voice of reason, Amy. Why ask, “Why me?” Rather ask, “Why not me?” We Americans are not so special as we like to think.

  • Joan Haskins

    I am heartbroken by the events in Boston. I continue to be heartbroken by all the senseless deaths around the world.
    Excellent piece, Amy.

  • Amy, I, too, am tired of the same news coverage over and over and the rush to judgement. None of us knows what, when or how those brothers became killers, so it would behoove us all to reserve judgement until all of the information has seen the light of day.

    I was heartened to read your piece today. Not all journalists are headline huggers.

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