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Anger, Covid, and the Brutalization Effect

For the past week, I’ve gotten an alert from the local police department about a shooting in my area. Last night, it was another teenager. Yesterday, there was a random shooting in Fountain, Colorado that sent two teenagers to the hospital. Two. Teenagers. One was 14, the same age as my son. We are going through global trauma and it is starting to show. 

When Covid first attacked the United States and we all went on lockdown, there was a feeling of panic and isolation. As it progresses, the anger has taken over. My mom is not healthy, but she can’t go without food. So we go together. While I fill one cart with things my son needs, she fills one with things she and Dad need. We dodge scared, angry customers who are more likely to snap at you if you’re jostled into their six foot bubble than check to make sure an older woman is ok. So I stand guard over my mom. Silently. Because really, my mom is fiercely independent and, really, she can handle herself. But it’s such a tense, angry atmosphere, I feel like I need to make sure no one attacks. I watched the woman in line behind me start screaming at a guy for cutting three feet behind her. She was standing in the aisle, waiting for a checkout line. In the aisle, y’all. There were people behind him and displays beside him. He literally had nowhere else to go. This brilliant older gentleman proceeded to continue walking and mentioned not having brought a tape measure with him. He didn’t yell back. He kept moving. I stood there, ready to step in for this older man, but he handled it with grace and mitigated the situation by removing himself. 

I open social media and I’m, once again, attacked by anger. I get it. This sucks. People are mad. BUT, it’s not ok to attack other people just because you’re unhappy. I posted something with a simple question the other day and got attacked. Why? Because they didn’t like what I’d posted. On my own Facebook wall. Whatever happened to if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all? It is possible to see something someone has posted and scroll by. It’s possible to move out of the way if someone gets in your space instead of yelling at them. I’ve handled this by unfollowing the people who post angry, hateful things. Whether those things are political, or just social commentary, I don’t want to be inundated with it all day. Yes, it sucks to not see pictures of my friends’ kids doing cute kid stuff, but when the majority of the posts have become angry attacks at anyone who doesn’t believe what they believe, I just don’t want to see it. So instead of destroying a friendship that is possibly twenty years long, I unfollow the person. They no longer show up in my feed. Understanding that this person is also going through trauma and, yes, I don’t agree with the response, but this is uncharted territory for our generation and people aren’t responding to things as they normally do. Will I just forget this behaviour? No. I’ll watch carefully to make sure I will not become a victim of their angry attacks in the years to come, but I’m not willing to write people off based on how they handle a global trauma. (side note: if this were more than social media attacks at a political party, I’d feel differently. It is not ok to stand by while people are abusing others.) 

My grandmother used to say, “Your rights end at the other guy’s nose.” Or something like that. I’ve heard that my entire life. You know what that means to me? We don’t have the right to blindly attack people because we’re angry. We don’t have the right to go off on people at grocery stores. I’ve heard the counter-argument that we should stand up for ourselves. And I agree! Totally and completely! But I think it’s time we started taking a step back and deciding whether we are perceiving a threat that deserves a public perpetuation of anger, or if we’re just feeling inconvenienced. Or scared. Because spreading hate the way society is right now? That’s getting kids shot at 7-11s and we should not be ok with that. 

As many of you know, I have a degree in criminal justice and a degree in psychology. I wrote a paper in college on something known as the Brutalization Effect. The research paper I wrote focused on the Brutalization Effect (BE) as it related to the death penalty, but the BE itself is more generalized. BE states that, when the public is exposed to something brutal, the violence and anger are perpetuated. So. We hold public executions (the way they were once done), and the violence in the viewing region increases for the next 48 hours. Crime rates go up and people get hurt. Now, take a moment to apply that to today’s situation. In the past week, I’ve been notified almost nightly that there were shootings within a one mile radius of my home. As each shooting occurs, the BE grows. The first outbreak of violence was a tipping point. It perpetuated more violence. Public fear went up. As fear and anger increases, more violence occurs, starting the cycle again, only stronger each time. We are cycling out of control as a society. 

A prime example is the lynching of an effigy of the Gov. of Kentucky. What the actual F**k? Is that who we are now? We sit in history class as teenagers, learning about the public lynching of black people during the Jim Crow period. We learn about how wrong that was. (Trust me… I’ve taught high school history. If my students can get fired up about the injustice, so can adults.) So what these “Americans” did by displaying their “Freedom of Speech” was perpetuate a culture of anger. They’re mad. I get that. But there is plenty of evidence that peacefully protesting the government is more effective and your message is better heard. I have no idea what they were mad about. I couldn’t read that far, because the way they went about it made me too emotional. I deal with fear and anger and depression about all of this, too.  

When my mom and uncles attended high school in the late sixties, they were required to take a class in debate. They were assigned sides. Those sides didn’t always match up with their own beliefs, but their grades were based on how well they researched and debated their point without outbursts. Passion is approved, whether in class or in discussion, but outbursts do nothing to further whatever point your making. Well researched arguments go a lot further… when you’re talking to someone who listens. 

I guess my point is that we could all be heard. We can all express ourselves, but we need to stop attacking each other. It’s time to learn to debate a point instead of calling names. It’s time to remember that your rights end where someone else’s begin. It’s time to research what your actual rights are instead of feeling oppressed by state government (which, btw, can make laws that are different than federal law. Just sayin’… especially if those laws are more strict than federal law. It’s seen all the time in tobacco legislation.) If you don’t believe in the science used by the government, that’s ok. Our particular society is based on law and, how we choose to respond to those laws, dictates the outcome.

Please, please, please (I’m begging. You know I REALLY mean this part) BE KIND to the people around you. If you’re angry, I get it. That’s normal. But there’s no reason to take it out on the cashier at the grocery, who is probably even more scared than you are, but has to have a paycheck. This is GLOBAL TRAUMA. Everyone is going through this. If you’re not able to set that aside long enough to pay for your groceries, maybe take a minute to breath and then go through the line. Think before you attack someone on social media. Yes, they’re just a name on a screen to you, but that means that it is even more important to step back and think about what you want to say. Bullies are bolstered by the attention. Don’t give it to them and don’t become one in the process.