An emoji for your thoughts

When young people press the control button to navigate through this maddening world

“A terrorist attack so close to home! So scary!” That was my daughter’s text the other day, complete of a sad face emoji, soon after the lower Manhattan mayhem led mayor Bill de Blasio to describe the attack as terrorist-related. On a first thought, she is very right. We live in the Chelsea area and the Hudson River Park is our backyard, including that very mile of pedestrian path where the Home Depot white truck mowed down Newyorkers and tourists alike who were going about their business — walking, biking, on a fine Tuesday afternoon. The fact that 8 lives were crushed and many more people were injured just there, on the same exact corridor we strolled along carefree, or pounded tirelessly, hundreds of times, makes a case in point.

But wasn’t she being a bit self-contained in her assessment of the geography of what home is? Isn’t the world home, already? What about the recent truck ramming attack on La Rambla in Barcelona? Or the one in Stockholm, or in Paris, that she visited several times in the past few years, or the one on the London Bridge? Didn’t we live thru 9–11? And what about the too many attacks on our soil after that? The Internet and the socials have made our planet shrink — in a matter of a couple of hours since the tragedy, the other day, I had received dozen of concerned messages from friends in Europe, which made me realize I better activate that safe feature on Facebook. The news run faster and faster and the images stay forever and for everyone. Especially for the youngest. Fear should have settled in a long time ago, if anything.

After this first reaction to her text, I started thinking more deeply. My daughter is a kind soul, who is planning to dedicate her time to make life better for young trouble kids, who has risen money to build a well in Siem Reap, who has travelled extensively with her family and friends, a person actually attuned with the world’s tribulation. So, what is it with this “sudden” realization that “oh, terror hit home”? I think the answer lies in our kids’ survival mode, in the mechanism for the 21st century going awry that they have to emply in order for them not to get crazy. It’s not lack of empathy for the rest of the world. Like a trauma that occasionally makes the body shut off (the brain can forget the immediate aftermath of an incident), the constantly increasing emotional load of terror news that almost daily jangles our brain has to be fend off somehow, so that we do not develop a pathological fear and anxiety. It is a known effect of some receptors in the brain’s amygdala: they tell neurons to stop producing emotions, to keep fear under wraps.

So, if next time our kids appear to be detached from today’s reality and focused on their immediate insulated surroundings, it might very well be that their adaptability switch is turned on. They are focused on navigating through this maddening world. Humans have incredible survival skills. We need to. A sad face emoji , also, can help.

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