How To Cope With Random Acts Of Violence

Many experts have marked Columbine as the beginning of an uptick in random acts of violence in the United States. Younger Millennials and now Gen Z and Gen Alpha are dealing with the impacts of random acts of violence in schools, at concerts, and more. Acts of domestic terrorism can be hard to deal with, even if you weren't directly impacted – and the 24 hour news cycle doesn't help very much.

Here are some tips, tricks, and reflections about dealing with random acts of violence in your community. There is no “one size fits all” solution, and no way to completely eliminate the anxiety that comes from living in this modern world with easy access to weapons. But, there are some steps we can take to feel more secure.

Step One: Just Keep On Living.

If you're just affected by the news cycle, the best thing you can do is to keep living your everyday life. Take time to enjoy the little things. Spend time with your friends, family, and loved ones. Check in with other people who you think might be feeling anxious about what's happened recently. We all like to bottle up that angst inside, and it's just not good for us.

It's a normal reaction to be upset by major news of random acts of violence, school shootings, bombings, etc. It's even within the realm of normal reactions to be completely numb or disconnected from the news. For the most part though, we don't need to deviate from our normal routine. There's nothing that we, as individuals, can do in our day to day to prevent future acts of violence. Instead, we need to lean into organizing and collective action to get anything done.

Faceless multiracial sport team stacking hands on court

Step Two: Be A Part Of The Solution.

There are a lot of reasons why someone might commit a mass violent crime. It's dangerous to “write them off” as mentally ill or unstable. This “others” the perpetrators. While it might make it easier for you to sleep at night, this behavior can make you less likely to take action in your own life, and less likely to see the warning signs in someone you love.

Instead, wholly embrace that person's humanity. Consider why – truly consider – they may have done this. Was it desperation? Religious zeal? Rage? What sort of systemic influences in their lives may have led to the action that they took? How could we, as a society, prevent future incidents like this from happening? What sort of interventions could take place?

Then, place your mojo behind that. Dive right in and join a town hall, donate to a nonprofit, run for town office. Go back to school for that degree because you're that invested in the outcome. Whatever you feel called to do – take the step.

In a spiritual sense, combating random acts of violence takes prayer; it takes magic and ritual; and it takes other physical action from believers, too. We can't just pray the hate away. We also need to clean up the breeding ground where it lives and grows in our everyday life. Without this, we won't be able to prevent future acts of hate.

Step Three: Be Compassionate

It's easy to feel overwhelmed by the news, like you'd be unable to ever save someone's life in a similar situation. Don't dwell in that place of anxiety for too long. It's a dark place, and you deserve better. So, after you've wallowed for a while, take a break and focus on your daily tasks. Bring comfort to the ones you love. Walk your dogs. And be kind to yourself.

Reflections on the Boston Marathon Bombing (2013)

I was incredibly busy this week; and saddened, yesterday, to hear about the tragedy in Boston.  Already this morning, unfortunately, I've seen some divisive facebook posts from, “Traditionally, the crazy people are on the far right…” to “Why is it when there's a major tragedy everyone jumps on board to say “my prayers are with them,” but when there are everyday tragedies that aren't picked up by the media, no one cares?”  If that doesn't make sense… I can't apologize, because, well, that's what they said.  It doesn't make too much sense to me, either.

Part of the problem with bombings, and more generally, random acts of violence, is that we can't make sense of it.  The majority of society can't understand the reasoning, and so, we get scared.  Maybe this latest incident will keep you from running a marathon.  I know that every time I cross campus (I work at a University), every time I go to the mall, or the grocery store… in the back of my mind sits the question, “What if today is the day that some clinically insane person is going to decide to take my life?”

I also know that there's nothing you can do about it.  Some call it fate, some call it destiny.  Some call it (un)luck.  But the fact remains that no one, save the people who perpetrated the act of violence, will ever have prescient knowledge about pain/hurt/death in a location.  So try not to let it worry you.

I've always found that my old high priest's reasoning about death is most comforting in this time.  They've gone home.  They suffered, yes, but they're home now.  And thankfully, it's only been three people (at this point) who have made that journey home.  We get to keep the rest of them for a little while longer.

I took a bit of time to come into work today.  I cuddled with my animals,  I let myself doze.  I took a moment to grab some breakfast.  I hope you did, too.  Life is short, and you should value the time that you have.  Because, unfortunately, we never know when our time is up.

This isn't a new phenomena, and it isn't the end of the world.  There have been violently crazy people for centuries.  The methods may have evolved (explosives over straight mutilation, for example), but the fact remains that a small percentage of the human race is determined to cause mayhem and pain.

Don't let this deter you from running.  Or hiking.  Or shopping.  Or cycling.  Or going out.  Or living.  When fear rules your life, the psychopaths win.

This post was originally published on April 16, 2013. It was last updated on December 14, 2021.

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