As I've gotten older, major tragedies have seemed to affect me more. Maybe it was my experiences on 9/11 working in a stockmarket's operation center, although 50 miles from the WTC, listening to the lines of communications with the traders going out all at once that morning. Perhaps it was putting my son on the preschool bus 40 miles away from Newtown as the police announced that a whole room full of first graders was "gone". Perhaps it comes from being close to those two tragedies that the large-scale human dramas that unfold over the world seem to affect me more than before.
Right now on the other side of the earth, entire villages have been lost in Nepal in a tragedy that has claimed at least 4,000 lives in minutes (a number nearly unfathomable in American lives going back to the second world war.) A Nepalese co-worker of mine shared stories to our work group that put the scale of the national tragedy in perspective. It reminded me of the stories like that of a friend of mine who travelled back to Haiti after the great earthquake there to assist his family. Great human suffering of a perspective beyond our "American Minds". The general apathy (don't even start with social media) toward what happened in Nepal is upsetting.
At the same time, rioting occurring in Baltimore has caused the displacement of many and danger to people in city neighborhoods. I know too many good people in law enforcement on all levels from the small town cop to inner city or federal police. Not all cops are bad people. Most are good. Check the salaries, divorce rates and health problems associated with a career as police. People choose that career for a reason which usually transcends financial gain. But just like any group of people, there are bad police. There is racism, prejudice - not just in the police force, but in all of America. I can't watch this video of Eric Garner being arrested and not get sick to my stomach. This wasn't some deep south "redneck" town; it was New York City. And the situation in Baltimore is disgusting. A disgusting death and some very disgusting reactions.
The two stories are totally different in nature; Nepal a disaster out of anyone's control and the story in Baltimore that of urban angst after apparent injustice. But from them we see the reaction of those affected as a chance to lift the human spirit. To do good in the face of bad, whether caused by evil men or the condition of being human. There is not only a chance to learn, but to act well in times like these. The way we study future earthquakes we should figure out why there have been so many urban riots since the Rodney King incident years ago and do something about it.
There is a lot of potential to be ugly. I hate seeing names like "thugs" or "animals" being used to label people around protests in Baltimore (no racist overtone there, right? Vancouver "thugs" nearly burned down their city when they lost the Stanley Cup and most Americans laughed - although in the link other Canadians did call them thugs). The things I heard after Katrina about New Orleans residents were so different than what was said about New Yorkers after 9/11, but both tragedies were as devastating to those involved. After Haiti, Americans I knew complained that we were helping Haiti too much because they would never help us (get some perspective on the world, geez, their capital was destroyed and 230,000 people died).
What can you do? Go past the ugliness. Talk to people. Talk to friends in law enforcement about these kinds of situation. Too often the police are expected to be an omnipotent and blindly just force when all the are is people with special training - it can be too much to ask, right? I'm sure you will find friends who are police that are just upset at some of the actions that have occurred in stories that have gained national attention.
Talk to people who have visited Nepal, Haiti or areas affected by the Boxing Day Tsunami. Try to get a scope of how great the destruction was, if only to become grateful for what you have and the blessing of safety and fortune to be born in this country.
Don't be afraid to talk to people of different races, backgrounds, sexuality, home-countries. Ask them if racism/bigotry still exists. The stories I've heard in my life from non-white or non-hetro or non-Christians are disturbing; they make you really question the nature of mankind. I'd say, ever black person I've ever asked if they got pulled over or followed while driving for no reason in particular - probably two thirds say yes. That may come as a surprise to a lot of you reading this. Racism exists still - and it's not just traffic stops and certainly the police in general are not the main culprits. It's best to reject any doctrine that tries to justify segregation, exclusion or bigotry rather than hide behind it.
It comes down to this - we can learn from these things and we can become better people, by making some effort to view the world through other people's lenses. Or we can keep suffering.
Additional note: Not all protests in Baltimore are violent: