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We Are Not Just Polarized. We Are Traumatized.

The pandemic. The mass shootings. Insurrection. Trump. We've been through so much. What if our entire national character is a trauma response?

If you’re even moderately online, you’ve likely crossed paths with TraumaTok (or its cousin, Trauma­Gram): Lots of short videos explicating how myriad hang-ups—including perfectionism and hoarding, people-pleasing and social isolation—are “trauma responses.” There’s advice, too: Stimulating the vagus nerve can be a good self-soothing mechanism. What about “tapping”? That’s when you tap certain pressure points of your body. Or “grounding”? That’s when you wriggle your toes in the bare earth. These videos have hundreds of thousands, even millions of views.

Like any decently sized cultural trend, TraumaTok has its jokey meme side as well. I’m personally fond of the In­stagram account @softcore_trauma, which overlays images of cute animals with tonally discordant therapy jargon.

You’ve probably seen these things because you’ve left a digital trail about what’s bothering you these days. Is the aforementioned perfectionism interfering with your productivity? Maybe you feel as if your memory is going and want to do something about it. (Forgetfulness is also a trauma response!) You mentioned to someone the way that you still haven’t been able to get back into the groove of “weekdays,” and they told you “time slippage” is a trauma response, and so you finally ordered Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score (as this goes to press, it is in its 156th week on The New York Times’ bestseller list).

I am not the first person for whom the popularity of trauma content on social media triggers both recognition and suspicion. (Oversharing on social media? That’s “trauma dumping,” another—yes—trauma response.) Inquisitive, gently skeptical articles about a generalized “Trump trauma” that were keyed to viral tweets and, well, vibes started appearing during the 2016 campaign. Writing two weeks into Donald Trump’s presidency, an editor at Yahoo might as well have created a macro for the rest of the field: “while invoking ‘trauma’ ... may seem like an overreach to some, experts say it makes sense.”

The pandemic diminished the lightly doubting tone of many reports—surely, the lockdown was traumatic!—but, surprisingly, did not end it. In 2022, an NPR story rounded up experts to comment on a survey showing a surge in people seeking mental health treatment (referrals to psychotherapists nearly doubled between 2020 and 2021). But “is it trauma?” the article asks.

Reporters for these recent pieces probing the reality of our invisible injuries routinely consult van der Kolk as an arbitrator. His declarations are consistent: He “hesitates to call [the pandemic experience] trauma” (NPR); to The Guardian he said, “for me and most of my colleagues, the pandemic has not been traumatic” (for first responders and frontline workers, he allowed, that’s different); and in The Atlantic he was definitive: “When people say the pandemic has been a collective trauma … I say, absolutely not.”

And that should be it, right? That’s the guy who wrote the book. This average white lady, always on the alert for my own privilege, hears that demurral quite well: If we’re all traumatized, that moves us further and further away from and makes us less able to respect the indisputably traumatic (war, famine, genocide, structural racism, interpersonal violence, natural disaster). And this idea that undesirable character traits are “trauma responses”—doesn’t that relieve people of responsibility for their actions? Doesn’t this mass identification cheapen the category of “survivor” (along with lowering the bar for “trauma” itself)? And if the mildest bit of social friction is now a medicalized artifact—or as one meme puts it, “My entire personality is a trauma response”—then are we making “normal” impossible to achieve?

Me, I think we’re fucking traumatized, and at scale.

Off the Charts

In 2017, Washington, D.C., therapist Paula Atkinson went mildly viral for posting flyers online and in doctors’ offices advertising a “Trump trauma” support group. Trump, racial violence, and the crisis at the border had become daily topics in sessions, so she reasoned, “I wanted to get all these people, and this is when we could all be in the same room together.”

And then, despite the clicks and the jokes, she could not gather a quorum. “Thought of signing up,” one person posted on Twitter, “But then I thought, ‘that’s what Twitter’s for.’”

The popularity of TraumaTok and the easy discussion of trauma on social media limn the edges of how badly we’re coping with this thing: We are trying to find catharsis in atomization, automation, and the algorithm. We are avoiding deep vulnerability in favor of volume. But volume there is. The number of people describing themselves as survivors on social media doesn’t mean our definition of trauma is too large; it could mean it’s too small, only capturing those who are “out” about a diagnosis that still carries a lot of shame.

Van der Kolk’s rejection of “collective trauma” is anecdotal (“for me and most of my colleagues,” he said). You do not have to expand the definition of a traumatic event into the grayer areas of everyday slights and microaggressions to find millions and millions of Americans who have met with increasing levels of trauma since the Trump era began and the pandemic twisted our culture even more tightly into dysfunction.

As of last year, four in 10 Americans knew at least one person who died from Covid. This year, three in 10 Americans say they know someone who has been affected by an opioid addiction, and one in five knows someone who’s died from a painkiller overdose. In 2022, more than three million adults were displaced by some form of natural disaster—that’s more than three times as many displaced per year between 2008 and 2021. Last year, some cities saw a 50 percent increase in evictions over pre-pandemic levels. One in five knows someone who’s died due to gun violence; one in six has witnessed a shooting; 21 percent have been personally threatened by a gun. Half of Americans know someone personally who has experienced at least one of those events.

After Trump’s “grab her by” tape became public, calls to the national sexual assault hotline jumped up by 35 percent (as Michelle Goldberg observed, Trump was a walking trigger for assault survivors). During the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, calls to the sexual assault hotline spiked 201 percent. Lockdown—the first two months of the pandemic—saw a rise in intimate partner violence of 101 percent, with the rate stabilizing at an increase of about 8 percent from pre-pandemic numbers as of 2022.

And then there are the frontline workers and “essential personnel,” those who risked their lives for our safety and comfort during the spring of 2020. I assume that we agree health professionals faced trauma (and may well still). There are 22 million of them in the United States, and after the pandemic, 55 percent reported experiencing burnout, and three in 10 said they were now considering leaving the profession. The 55 million essential personnel who worked through the worst days of Covid suffered a similar toll: A year into the pandemic, the American Psychiatric Association found that 34 percent of essential workers had been treated by a mental health professional, 80 percent had trouble over- or under-sleeping, and 39 percent said they were drinking more alcohol than they had before.

No harm at this scale, in this country, is equally distributed, a point that van der Kolk was surely weighing when he discounted the idea of collective trauma. Poor people, people of color, queer people, single people, disabled people, and the very young and the very old bore (and will always bear) a disproportionate share of the pain that wracks us.

These are traumas at the individual level in numbers so large that they demand national attention because there are national consequences—think of the nationwide therapist shortage and “the Great Resignation.”

So, what if the reason so many people identify as trauma survivors is that they are? What if the horrors of the last seven years do translate into a nation that is suffering more than mere political dysfunction? What if the polarization, paranoia, conspiracism, and hopelessness that bog us down have a more holistic origin than structural malfunctions or individual malfeasance?

What if our entire national character is a trauma response?

Before you say “bullshit,” remember: Cynicism is a trauma response.

The Precipitating Events

The origin of the academic study of “collective trauma” has been credited to Kai Erikson’s 1977 book, Everything in Its Path, an account of the aftermath of the Buffalo Creek flood in Logan County, West Virginia, five years prior, which killed 125 people and destroyed 550 homes in a small mining community. In the book, Erikson writes of grappling with “thousands of pages of transcript material, whole packing boxes full of it,” that confounded him “not because the material is contradictory or difficult to interpret but because it is so bleakly alike.” He found respondents echoing one another to a frustrating degree, so much so that “a researcher is very apt to conclude after rummaging through these data that there is really not very much to say.” Eventually, however, he came to believe that the uniformity itself was meaningful; the damage done at Buffalo Creek was something more than a mere collection of individual harms.

Collective trauma, he wrote, means “a blow to the basic tissues of social life that damages the bonds attaching people together and impairs the prevailing sense of communality.” Collective trauma happens in slow motion, “A form of shock all the same…. ‘I’ continue to exist, though damaged and maybe even permanently changed. ‘You’ continue to exist, though distant and hard to relate to. But ‘we’ no longer exist as a connected pair or as linked cells in a larger communal body.”

In other words, the defining characteristic of collective trauma—and what makes it almost impossible to self-diagnose—is that people who have been through it no longer believe in the integrity of their community. How does anyone see themselves as a traumatized collective if no one feels that they belong?

So, pull back to the macro level. For a moment, put aside your or anyone else’s individual experience. Think of the country itself as a patient.

In the past seven years, the country has sustained significant, repeated damage to its institutions. The courts, elections, law enforcement, and so on are its vital organs. Trump has been punching America in the kidneys since he first floated the idea of a “rigged election.” January 6 was a heart attack. The musculature that is the justice system, well, it was always spasmodic. The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery shocked many white people into awareness of our already dysfunctional law enforcement apparatus, and then the Dobbs decision drove home how easily the rights that support us can be yanked away. Were we ever really as strong as we thought?

The country was already weakened by Trumpism when the pandemic attacked our nervous systems more than figuratively. It cut away at the millions of tiny threads that knit up our towns and cities. Think of the loose social ties that grow from just seeing the same people at the grocery store (or the office) every day—think of the mail. Our national proprioception—our awareness of where our parts are in relation to one another—deteriorated. Our creaky supply chain is another symptom of this disconnect. So is “you’re on mute.”

If you believe there is a national respiratory system, the need for metaphors ends. This summer, many of us could barely breathe.

Secondary trauma comes with bearing witness to tragedy. At that initial you-can’t-argue-your-way-out-of-it-this-is-trauma individual level, the stress ate away at the well-being of first responders, critical care workers, and mental health professionals. But when the nation is the patient, the secondary trauma comes from witnessing what we’re doing to ourselves. Study after study shows that many of those who consume media about traumatic events will develop symptoms similar to PTSD. Being glued to a screen can even be worse than actually being there; one study found that individuals who took in more than six hours of coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing in a day showed more signs of acute stress than those standing at the finish line. I’m not sure if the number of hours of pandemic coverage and the viewership it garnered can even be counted.

We can tabulate the numbers for other horrors, though. CNN, MSNBC, and Fox all set network records for daytime viewership on January 6—8.9 million, 5.5 million, and 5.7 million, respectively. Across broadcast and cable, over 28 million people saw an unprecedented peacetime attack against our nation’s capital. Seventy-nine percent of Americans—that’s four out of five of us—say they saw the George Floyd video.

These traumas cascade and compound. Research on media consumption of traumatic events reveals an unsurprising and potentially ruinous spiral: Traumatized people seek out information about the events they’ve experienced to make sense of them. (Which may explain why a majority of those who watched January 6 unfold—20 million—also watched the hearings.) This leads to further trauma, which leads to more media consumption, and so on and so on. Black people have necessarily learned this lesson over a long history of exposure to both violence and media depictions of it; asking well-meaning folks to stop posting videos of atrocities has become as much a part of the ritual of mourning as marches and memorials.

These recent large-scale hurts magnify one another because they are so tightly grouped together; they are especially deep because we have come to understand every single one of them as a betrayal: It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The government was supposed to work. The planet shouldn’t turn on us. We are a democracy with an orderly and peaceful transition of power. Children should not be shot at school.

Admittedly, these promises have only spotty integrity over the centuries (some of them were never really true). Today, they are all being broken simultaneously. As we experience betrayals again and again, the breaches of trust become both more impersonal and less coherent. There is no one person to blame, but we also can’t write off our tragedy to a twist of fate. What we have been through couldn’t have happened to just anyone. We cannot exactly follow the chain of causation to a single intelligible event, and yet there is nothing about our experience that’s an accident.

Whether physical or mental, individual or collective, to inflict trauma is to damage a connection: a bone is fractured, the blood vessels under the skin blossom into bruise; or a heart broken, a relationship ruptured, trust ruined. The healthy response to trauma is to set things right again. You sew up the laceration, set the bone; bring the community together, make amends, apologize. In contrast, unhealthy trauma responses don’t address the damage. They focus desperately on keeping the original event from ever happening again, to the exclusion of repairing wounds.

The exact forms of safety-seeking look discordant only when we compare individuals. For some, perfectionism is a talisman of protection (“If I’m good enough, I’ll be safe”), but for others, hoarding is a hedge against imagined impending calamity. (“If I never let go of anything, I’ll never be caught unprepared.”)

Generalized across millions, the nation-patient’s trauma responses manifest in more consistent forms. We’ve lowered our expectations and raised our level of paranoia to keep from getting hurt in the future; we indulge in distraction and deadening the senses to guard against thinking about what happened in the past.

Wary of the Future: Hypervigilance and Denial

Americans don’t believe good news anymore. Rocked by disasters, we refuse to recognize that the future might contain anything but more of them.

The economy rollicks along. Most economists say it is “fully recovered” since the Covid blows of 2020 (if also, as with harm, recovery is unevenly distributed). The Fed seems poised to thread the needle on inflation without causing a recession, and the supply chain’s disconnected segments inch toward one another. Crime, after surging during lockdown, is trending down again. We have treatments and have some control over the disease that kept us inside for over a year.

But we’re on edge anyway. No doubt, there is much to be concerned about in the year of our Lord 2023, but what’s suggestive of our emotional impairment is that we refuse to see what’s improved.

In January, Gallup asked Americans about 2023. Sixty-three percent said that the stock market would fall (the NASDAQ is up 37 percent, the S&P 500 18 percent); 72 percent said crime rates would rise (compared to 2022, violent crime from January to June 2023 had fallen in almost every category). In general, more Americans than ever (69 percent) say they’re pessimistic about the future of the economy; the smallest minority in one poll’s 17-year history says it’s a good time to invest in the stock market (24 percent). The number of people who have completed at least three of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s 12 recommended disaster preparedness activities went from 46 percent in 2017 to 59 percent in 2021.

With the pandemic, gun sales soared to their highest since January 2013, following Barack Obama’s reelection and the Sandy Hook shooting. Between 2019 and 2021, 7.5 million people became first-time firearm owners, and 5.4 million of those had until then lived in homes without guns.

But to understand how our extended trauma has changed gun ownership, remember that our injuries go back beyond the pandemic. In 2015, aka the last good year, just 8 percent of new gun owners were Black; 75 percent were white and 65 percent men. With Trump’s election, the demographic that had been eager to purchase guns under Obama—white people and men—slowed their roll, a time gun sellers called the “Trump Slump” (a phrase I want to use all the time now). Black people and women became new gun owners in higher proportion. Pre- and post-pandemic, the proportions remained roughly the same: about half women, and only 55 percent white.

Then the Floyd protests kicked off a reckoning. Then Joe Biden won. White men (as you’d expect) saw these as new reasons to arm themselves. And nonwhite, non-male people? They didn’t see any reason to be less threatened than they were before.

Gun ownership isn’t an entirely irrational response to the violence that lurks around the edges of our lives, especially those of women and minorities. The presence of firearms in a home makes the occupants more and not less likely to be the victims of gun violence, but I doubt the new owners are reading research papers on the topic.

No statistic can calm a nervous system beset by repeated alarms, and our primary coping mechanism just makes us seek out more coverage of what we’re scared of, confirmation bias at its most intensely toxic. So when cell phones document once-obscure conflicts—whether that’s police violence or road rage or assaults on passenger planes (the last two up statistically, in addition to stirring up social media frenzies)—the tragic results are at the top of our feeds. The attacks take place in more public spaces as well as in front of an individual’s camera lens. Following Covid, there have been increases in violence against hospital workers, retail employees, and civil servants. Some of those attacks were spun out of denial about our shared trauma (vengeful “plandemic” adherents, maybe), others from purely individual anguish. Every single one of them makes us feel less secure.

The most vivid example of how tightly we cling to the illusion of safety lies at the top of our presumed presidential ballot and in the palsied hands of our gerontocratic Congress. Would a well-adjusted country keep these same people in charge for this long?

We are braced for the worst, and through our actions and inactions we sometimes inflict it ourselves.

(If we could translate just a small percentage of our urgent flight from danger to doing something about climate change, would it all be worth it? Discuss.)

Distracted and Disassociated

We have also withdrawn into ourselves, or screens, or the rearview mirror. Even our irrational alarm about the future is, by definition, a refusal to actually engage with it.

The surveys that chart our hopelessness also show that we’ve reevaluated our pre-trauma past (those of us who can speak of such a thing). Almost 60 percent of the country agrees that “life for people like them is worse today than it was 50 years ago.” Was 1973 that great? Or is it the low bar that makes this assertion so depressing?

Many of you are probably reading this on a screen, so I don’t need to rehearse exactly what that’s done to you or how often you engage with it and not the world around you. Children now spend over twice as much time on screens as before the pandemic; by last count in 2019, reading for pleasure was declining and screen use was up. No wonder there’s not enough ADHD medication.

Compared to the Obama years, we are drinking more and on social media more. We’ve been spending more time alone each year since 2003, and between 2014 and 2021, our average time alone jumped by eight hours to a staggering 48 hours per week.

We see our friends less: The percentage of free time spent with individuals of other households, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics measures it, has gone from six and a half hours a week to just two hours and 45 minutes. We sense this apartness. In 2021, 58 percent of Americans told pollsters they felt lonely. We are so lonely the surgeon general has declared it an epidemic. The last couple of years saw new record highs in suicides and fatal drug overdoses. Our country is avoiding itself.


We’ve agreed that the patient is wounded; what do we prescribe? All individual trauma therapies, whatever the modality, have one goal: to change the story you tell yourself. To go from victim to survivor, from being ashamed to seeing responsibility clearly. If we want to change the future, we must change how we talk about the past. In individual therapy, that can mean reexperiencing the trauma, but from a different perspective; it can mean changing the brain chemistry so that new neural pathways can form. It can mean somatic therapy in which the body releases more truth about what it’s been through.

State actions can change national narratives through making their stories more true, more complete. In Germany, acknowledging and tending to the memory of the Holocaust is threaded through policy, from laws regulating public speech to a network of museums and monuments, to ongoing reparations (Jews will receive $1.4 billion next year). The story is imprinted into everyday life: There are tens of thousands of “stumbling stones” bearing the names of victims and survivors embedded in sidewalks. Healing is ongoing, so we still don’t know exactly what trajectory Germany will follow, but consider what the country would be like if those things hadn’t been done.

Researchers debate the “success” of truth and reconciliation commissions from South Africa to Canada; they are imperfect instruments. At present, they’re useless to us anyway. We’re missing the first half of the tool. Can we agree that any country that has enough public support to get a truth and reconciliation commission going is ahead of us?

I believe that we won’t completely heal until we’ve fixed the structural flaws of capitalism. I would love to live in a world where capitalists cared about proving me wrong—a world in which “but what about your trauma?” made as much sense on a political debate stage as a question about the economy or education. But capitalism demands we remain traumatized; if we don’t feel some level of pain and emptiness, we’ll stop buying things we don’t need.

What are some other actionable steps toward healing? I’ve heard at least one activist make the argument that the psychedelic therapy that’s shown such promise for individual PTSD could work for large groups in conflict as well. “Ketamine as violence-prevention policy,” she said. As amused as I am by the thought of a countrywide K-hole, the more practical approach is the most traditional by therapy standards: Talk about it. Get on the same page. Testify.

In other words, the easiest thing we could do might be the most important: just admit that we have all been through the same thing. The problem of having such a widespread injury points us in the direction of the solution, because to agree that we share a story would be the first step to retelling it.

Healing for Whom?

Whatever we do about our trauma, we have to be careful that our treatments don’t reinscribe the same divisions over and over. Our methods of post-traumatic healing have to be as wide-reaching as the injuries themselves.

We are a country born out of the idea of abundance with a scarcity mindset. Few benefits—or rights—are genuinely available to everyone. Even limits to the franchise—once expanded, now contracting—are met with collective shrugs. Whole political movements have been born out of making sure that some people don’t get what everyone else does (the vote, health care, freedom, a restroom that matches who they think they are). The only thing the right wing seems determined to put in everyone’s arms is a weapon. And whatever healing after our national trauma means, it sounds expensive. Surely people’s trauma can be triaged.

If only hierarchies of injury didn’t just create new opportunities to inflict pain. Some classes of people will be at the bottom—their traumas “not as bad” as others’—and our history shows that it’s the same classes of people at the bottom every time.

Total access has to be the goal. Otherwise, we will stop short when things get hard and keep remaking the structure that brought us to where we are. My hope for unlimited trauma resources is boundless, but my hope for the complete eradication of our equally large measure of racism before we do that is, well, not.

Our biggest problem is the people who need help and refuse to admit it. If I could, I’d invite them to just be traumatized. Ted Cruz, my friend, you have suffered. Tucker Carlson, I believe you are as confused and angry as you look. Marjorie Taylor Greene, have a seat, here’s some mushrooms. (Just a thought.)

Some of them are the people who made panicked phone calls from the Capitol on January 6. How do we make them part of the story when they won’t even say the words?

To extend a place in our group therapy circle to those who have materially benefited from the upheaval in all our lives does not have to minimize the anguish of anyone else. Bessel van der Kolk is not wrong to distinguish between the relative comfort of the privileged and the deepening circumstances of the non-privileged. Middle-class white people’s new struggles are not oppression. But preemptively deciding that their pain doesn’t count is one reason we are where we are now.

And the upside of daring to include the disgruntled naysayers is vast. Validating the trauma of people who only vaguely recognize their own experience can open up the conversation among all of us. Emphasizing the shared experience lays the groundwork for carefully and honestly acknowledging the differences. We might even talk about the systemic reasons why privileged people’s experience of trauma feels so special and new to them.

My hope is that then we would smash the system that separated us in the first place, because capitalism usually finds a way to undo any progress people make toward wholeness … but my ability to imagine positive outcomes has already been stretched to its limit, and I realize even the invitation to connect is asking too much.

Cruz, Carlson, and the indefatigable MTG et alia don’t want to be included. They’ll refuse our invitation. They will do more than refuse it. They will raise money off of it as it dominates news cycles. This outsize response would then (as the research shows) quite possibly retraumatize everyone, including them. We know how it would play out, because we’ve already seen how the right frames almost any plea for kindness and grace: Fuckin’ snowflakes, amiright? Defensiveness at that amplitude is a trauma response, obviously. So I’ve heard in countless 12-step meetings: “You spot it, you got it.” I’m not sure how we shake them loose from the illusion that they are, in fact, delicate snowflakes, too.

If the destruction visited on us these past few years has shown us anything, it’s that privilege never protects anyone completely from the grip of the system: Being white won’t save white people from capitalism; patriarchy won’t save men from sexual assault; supporting Trump won’t save you from a rampaging mob of Trump supporters.

Privilege does allow people to ignore the downstream effects of their trauma; privilege demands it. The Congress members who have disavowed the fear they clearly felt on January 6 (there are recordings of them displaying it!) have done so because the fear of losing power now frightens them more than the fear of losing their lives did then. You do not, under any circumstances, have to hand it to Mike Pence for anything, but my heart does ache a tiny bit over how he’s been made an example of. He has refused to deny the extremity of being shuttled around the Capitol by the Secret Service because the president suggested a lynching, and that threatens the delusion that a red hat protects you from getting your head bashed in. He’s not sticking to the story.

The stories we tell ourselves about what protects us—whiteness, ableism, gender binaries, heteronormativity, and class—are only stories, enormously powerful stories that do offer partial protection as they inflict harm on others. These categories don’t keep people safe; they exist so that some can think of themselves as more safe than other people. These stories create the illusion of security via separation. Privilege may keep you from certain kinds of risks, but it won’t make you resilient. Only community can.

Inviting grace for the people who have done terrible things is another change to the narrative. It might be the most revolutionary one.

Maladaptive trauma responses are difficult to undo because they feel as if they work, sort of. A gun won’t make you more safe, but it might make you feel more safe. Drinking and drugs don’t make you less lonely, but you don’t care as much about it.

We are not wrong to worry about the future, if only because we are dealing with our experience in such destructive ways. But the opposite of feeling afraid about the future isn’t certainty about one’s safety. The opposite of feeling afraid is confidence that you will get through the thing you’re afraid of. Recovering from trauma isn’t about preventing the possibility of ever being hurt again. It’s about coming to accept that you were hurt and that you can heal … and do it again if necessary.

Studies of torture survivors have found that activists “emerge as less traumatized than nonactivists, even though activists often experience more torture.” Specifically, those “having no commitment to a cause or activist group or prior expectations of arrest or torture” reported higher levels of distress. What’s more, among activists who were tortured, those with a strong commitment to their cause were the least likely to have symptoms of PTSD.

No one can say exactly what cushions activists but doesn’t protect everyone. Maybe activists saw their suffering as part of a larger story? First, they knew what they were doing risked retribution; second, they believed it was worth it; third, the goal that made the risk worthwhile was a shared one. They weren’t taking the risk alone or just for their own sakes; their resilience was rooted in not being alone.

Viktor Frankl, the Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor whose experiences led him to focus on our search for life’s meaning, might argue that activists’ connections to a larger group and greater goals created meaning; perhaps understanding yourself as part of a community establishes a sense of meaning before anything bad ever happens.

Mending, bringing together, reconnecting. We have to remember that the wound we’re healing either already existed or had created an area so fragile it would shatter at the lightest touch. Being in a community feels like an improvement on human relations in general. But maybe it’s how we were always supposed to be.