Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Meaning Makers

An interesting thing happens if the world does not quickly start helping us fill traumatic silence: we will fill it ourselves.

We will start writing stories in our own mind about what is happening, about why it is happening. We will start "remembering" things that may or may not have been true at one point, though most likely will have been unrelated to what we're trying to connect them with. We will start rehashing these narratives in our head until we make sense of them. 

We simply cannot tolerate things that do not make sense to us. We are, at our core, meaning makers, and we will go to great lengths to get to a point where we understand. Or at least, where we think we do. 

In the early hours of the investigation into our community's shooting late this weekend, the narrative was all the same: no one knew what happened, nothing seemed to start it, it was all very random. And then, hours after the event, one witness came out - one person who was in that mall food court - and said, "There was a fight. I know there was a fight." 

All of a sudden, everyone was talking about the fight. Yes, there was a fight. A fight started this whole thing. Yes, a fight. The news media was even reporting that there was a fight that took place before the shooting started.

That's because a fight in this context makes sense to us. We think, okay, someone got into a heated exchange with someone else, something was said, and the whole thing escalated. And now, we have an angry person with a gun who unfortunately chose to use it, and whether he was then reckless with that gun or simply a bad shot is irrelevant. 

Something in our souls comes to rest when we hear there was a fight. makes sense now. We can accept this. 

Except...the truth? There was no fight involving this gunman in the mall. None. There was no contact that we know of between this gunman and anyone else before he started shooting. Surveillance video shows him entering the mall, going straight into the restroom, staying there for more than an hour, and then coming out shooting. 

Police eventually clarified that there was no fight involving this gunman, though they didn't throw the theory entirely out the window. They confirmed there seemed to be some kind of argument in the food court prior to the shooting, but it is no way involved the gunman. 

It had nothing to do with the shooting, except in the minds of us as meaning makers who needed to understand what on earth happened. So, our minds tied the two together so that it didn't seem so random. 

Interestingly, even after the police confirmed that the fight had nothing to do with the shooting, witnesses continued talking about the fight for a bit longer. They kept saying there was a fight in the food court and then shots started ringing out. Once they connected it in their heads to where it made sense, they couldn't let go of it, even after being told it was false. Even with video proof that it was false. 

Trauma does this to us, too. It makes us write these stories. It makes us seek this understanding. We cannot live in the tension of not knowing, of not being able to figure things out. It makes us write these stories, and then, it weaves them so deep into our memory of an event that we are almost always forever certain that the story we've come up with is no story at all - it is the truth.

Yet another reason why we should become more comfortable with the silence, even with traumatic silence. Because if we don't, we put truth on the line, and we may never get the story straight. We will simply settle for the first thing that makes sense. 

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