Keep reading the uncomfortable stories and remember we’re all interconnected

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By Tracy Simmons

I keep reading about the Sutherland Springs Church shooting. I want to know about who died and who lived, and why something so appalling has once again happened in our country.

But reading about it is hard. I blink away tears and my heart shrinks away from the words on the page.

Although it’s uncomfortable, I face these stories because I worry that if I don’t I’ll become insensate to them.

If I truly believe we all exist in relation to each other, then I need to remain tender, not calloused.

I teach journalism at Gonzaga University and in class, we spoke about the shooting. I was stunned at how little my students seemed to know about what happened, and worse, how unfazed they seemed to be.

Finally, a student spoke up and said that for them, this was the norm. They’re used to it. Desensitized.

Plus, it happened 2,055 miles from here.

This desensitization is partially a product of the echo chambers we hear so much about. That chamber allows us to forget that we belong to one another, which is perhaps why the people of our country are so distressed right now.

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other,” said Mother Teresa.

It’s easy to shut out what we think doesn’t affect us, and only tune in to what does. We shake our heads at what’s happening in Texas, in Puerto Rico, in Syria and then we turn away.

It’s exhausting to do otherwise, I know. Drowning ourselves in such troubling headlines is overwhelming, depressing.

I don’t think we should be a slave to the news. Turning a blind eye, though, is how compassion slips away.

Take our city’s homelessness problem as an example. I’m guilty of driving by panhandlers and avoiding eye contact when I get stuck at the light. If I don’t see them, their circumstances won’t affect me.

My numbness excuses me from doing anything to fight poverty, just as looking away from the Sutherland Springs story would excuse me from acknowledging and trying to do something about the violence plaguing our nation.

I don’t know what the solution is, but maybe it starts by seeing ourselves in others and recognizing our interconnectedness. If it was my niece, or aunt or grandparent in that church I wouldn’t want America to turn the page or change the channel. I’d want America to grieve with me, to sit in the misery with me, and then join me in finding a solution so this stops happening.

The Buddha once said, “Since this exists, that exists, and, since this does not exist, that does not exist. That is created because this is created, so if this disappears, that disappears.”

Translation: We’re all linked. What we do to each other, how we treat each other,  this planet, it’s all connected.

If one generation is becoming desensitized to mass shootings, then what in our society is disappearing? Tenderheartedness? Compassion?

That sounds like a forbidding future.

We can change this if we stop minding only what impacts us directly. It takes practice. We need to take the time to learn about what’s happening in the lives of those who live across town, or across the state, or across the border. And the next time distressing news breaks, we need to sit in it and think of those impacted instead of turning away. Maybe empathy and reflection is the start needed to move toward action.

Tracy Simmons

About Tracy Simmons

Tracy Simmons is an award winning journalist specializing in religion reporting, digital entrepreneurship and social journalism. In her 15 years on the religion beat, Simmons has tucked a notepad in her pocket and found some of her favorite stories aboard cargo ships in New Jersey, on a police chase in Albuquerque, in dusty Texas church bell towers, on the streets of New York and in tent cities in Haiti.
Simmons has worked as a multimedia journalist for newspapers across New Mexico, Texas and Connecticut. She serves as the executive director of, a digital journalism start-up covering religion news and commentary in Spokane, Wash. She also writes for The Spokesman-Review and for the Religion News Service. She is also a Journalism Instructor at Washington State University.

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