Sunday, September 27, 2009

Can We Forget for a Minute?


Bob Greene has a commentary piece on CNN.com today about family annihilation. You may recall that this is the technical term for murders that wipe out a whole family, usually perpetrated by a member of the family. Greene expresses his concern that, as such homicides appear to become more common, we are becoming numb to them. He writes,
the willful and violent ending of a family's life must never become one more story at which we glance briefly and then turn the newspaper page or zap to another channel on the cable box or click to the next screen on our laptop. For if we lose our capacity to be shattered when this happens, then we have lost a part of ourselves.
I would certainly share Greene's concern if I thought that we, as a society, were in danger of thinking that family annihilation was not so bad. It is so bad. The question is, do we have to find it so distressing?

Greene says we do. He makes a clear and Quarterback-esque argument for why family annihilation violates our worldview. As he explains,
we have always been taught: When there is nothing else, there is family. When, in times of the deepest despair, there is no one to lean on, there is family. Family is -- or at least should be -- the synonym for safety. Life's protective barrier against the world's dangers.
He feels we should not lose that view of our families, and to fail to be horrified by family annihilation would be to give up on this fundamental sense of how the world should be.

I don't actually agree with Greene, at least not completely. There is a difference between saying that it is understandable that people are impacted by this kind of crime and saying it is necessary to be impacted by this kind of crime. I would argue that, in fact, there are times when putting something awful aside is not only OK, it's desirable.

The last thing we need is our society to come to a screeching halt because we are all so traumatized we can't function. We saw what that might look like in the days following 9-11 -- a tremendous sense of unity of purpose and a paralyzing fear that had us looking at everything as a potential threat. Eventually, we processed what had happened and put it to the side. We are different for having experienced that day, but we don't live every day with that kind of fear. I don't think we need to live every day with the kind of horror that really thinking about family annihilation brings, either.

Greene is mistaking overload for apathy. We are not at any risk of thinking that family annihilation is acceptable. When we choose to change the channel, we aren't saying we don't care. Sometimes, we're saying that we just can't take any more.


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at www.SchoolCrisisConsultant.com
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