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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Human goodness after terror

Published: April 19, 2013
Section: Opinions, Top Stories

Bombs explode at a marathon to kill three people younger than 30 and wound nearly 200 others. A deranged gunman open fires to massacre 20 children and six teachers at an elementary school. Another shoots down dozens of people watching a midnight premiere in a movie theater.

Acts of human evil leave us speechless. Filled with a growing complexity of emotions, we struggle for words to explain these horrific events.

The tragedies of Boston, Aurora and Newtown, however we classify them—as massacres or domestic terrorist attacks—leave our society with a multitude of questions and few answers.

As investigations unfold, we learn the facts about possible motives. But those facts do little to answer the questions about human nature that remain.

Why construct bombs with nails and inflict the most excruciating injuries possible for those who survive? Why kill first graders at point blank range? Why shoot people inside a movie theater on a quiet summer night? How can any one commit such atrocious, monstrous crimes?

We struggle to explain the brutality of these acts beyond the fact that evil exists in our world.

But if individuals demonstrated the existence of evil in our society this year, we can find comfort in the communities that overwhelmingly remind us about the goodness of compassion, selflessness and love in response.

At an interfaith service Thursday, President Obama reminded a grieving city and nation that human goodness will triumph over evil.

“And that’s what the perpetrators of such senseless violence—these small, stunted individuals who would destroy instead of build, and think somehow that makes them important—that’s what they don’t understand,” Obama said. “Our faith in each other, our love for each other, our love for country, our common creed that cuts across whatever superficial differences there may be—that is our power. That’s our strength.”

The tragedies of recent months shake our personal sense of stability and calm, but they do not destroy our communities. At first glance, the headlines send us into a state of awe and shock. But then we hear about the first responders and civilians who rushed toward danger, who ran toward gunfire or smoke, to aid their friends, family and strangers. And we see those stories continue to emerge, far outlasting the ones about the senseless culprits who chose evil.

Monday reminded us all too well that terrible things happen in our society for which we often can never truly understand why or how.

When appropriate, it’s our collective responsibility to work to prevent them by reforming what we can control. The Senate attempted reform this week with its plan for new background checks after Newtown but failed horribly. No, it would not be a full proof plan against gun violence, but it would be a common sense step in the right direction that 90 percent of the American people support.

But sometimes, like on Monday, there is no security precaution or policy solution in response to evil.

Many say it was the symbolism of the marathon—the human story of triumph in a race of endurance along with the international context of the race—and the significance of Boston—its rich cultural history and civic spirit—that someone or some group sought to destroy on Monday. But in their failed attempt, they only revealed the strength of the city. They only revealed the core character of a community they tried to defeat.

The lesson we are left with after Monday, the same one we learned after other senseless acts of evil this year, is that community spirit will prevail, however arduous the struggle.