National Disasters Hitting Close to Home
By Alice Tecotzky
On October 31st, the sidewalks of Lower Manhattan were uncharacteristically engulfed in red and blue flashing lights, the sounds of blaring sirens overpowering that of the typical midday traffic. Ambulances dominated the streets, making the ordinarily serene bike path lining the Hudson River a chaotic crime scene.
The source of this unorganized anxiety was a terrorist attack that took the lives of eight people and injured eleven others. As a New York City school, Packer was tasked with how to best respond to the horrific event, and its student body was forced to confront the emotional toll that an attack in one’s own city can take, something that most of us have never had to do before.
A survey was sent out the Upper School concerning the effects the attack had on students. Of the 78 people that responded, 53.8% said that the attack affected them differently than others that did not happen in New York City. Many of those students emphasized that because the attack occurred on streets they know so well, it felt more real. 28.7% of those who responded live in Lower Manhattan, and were particularly struck by the proximity of the attack to their homes.
“It felt much more real and personal, because the street in front of my house was lined with news vans and cop cars, and the attack took place on the bike path that my family and I often run on,” wrote a Lower Manhattan resident, conveying the sense of fear that was prevalent in many responses.
The question of whether or not it is morally correct for us as New Yorkers to care more about or devote more attention to this attack than to others of the same magnitude around the world drew varied, and often contradictory, responses. 47.5% of respondents said that yes, it is morally correct, while 52.5% said it is not.
The theme of heightened instinctive human reaction to closer threats was common among those who said that it was moral. A majority of those who said that it was morally correct articulated that it is by no means unreasonable to care more about something that more closely concerns you, and one respondent emphasized that “we have to stop feeling bad about feeling bad.”
“It’s natural for people to be moved by things that hit close to home. There’s nothing wrong with that,” wrote one student.
Conversely, many other students made the argument that granting an attack closer to us more attention simply because we felt more deeply affected by it is unfair, because “we are all humans no matter where we live.”
Some expressed the belief that an unbalanced distribution of our attention leads to a lack of awareness, and focused on the fact that “just because you aren’t nearby doesn’t mean that nobody is.”
“Just last month there was an attack that killed off 300 people in Somalia, yet no one breathed a word of it,” wrote Caleb Sciannella (‘19). “It’s pretty hypocritical to focus on one attack more than another.”
Many were of the opinion that while they do not necessarily think it morally correct to devote more attention to this attack than to others, they do think that it makes sense, given human nature.
“Is it morally right for us to devote more attention to this attack than others of similar brutality around the globe? No. The lives of New Yorkers are worth no more than those of people anywhere else. But is it rational to care more about this, given that we are New Yorkers ourselves? Sure,” wrote Nigel Jaffe (‘18), echoing the sentiment expressed by many of the respondents.
When this question was posed to Head of Upper School Jose De Jesús, he took a moment to pause before answering, explaining that he “feels conflict within himself.”
“What makes me uncomfortable about it is that there are terrorist attacks that happen all the time, and I’m not asking for a moment of silence,” he said. “It’s human nature to connect more…but we can’t not pay attention or not care about what’s happening outside of us.”
Upper School Psychologist Dr. Carlos Prieto explained that he does not think of human reactions to terrorist attacks as a question of morality, but rather as a matter of the protective instincts that all people have.
“I don’t think of it as being moral or immoral, I think it’s more about understanding the psychology, and self protective stuff that we do,” he said.
It seems that many of us, regardless of our age, feel an internal struggle when forced to contend with the horrors of an attack on the city we call our own. No one person has all the answers; the question of how to respond to something like this is a deeply individual and often unanswerable one. However, while we are all individuals with our own unique opinions, we are all united in the fact that we are connected to New York City in one way or another, and hate to see it or its members hurt.
As one respondent so eloquently put it, “If we don’t support our fellow New Yorkers during a time of crisis, who will?”