As I've been following the around-the-clock news coverage of the riots in Baltimore over the last few days, simultaneously scrolling through my Facebook news feed and Twitter timeline, I have found one of the most frequently asked questions is:
How could they do that?
The question is oftentimes followed by the phrases "to (innocent) small businesses," "to their neighborhoods," or "to their city." The question itself infers disappointment and frustration, at best, and condescension and indignation, at the very worst.
A friend of mine commented on an article in the Atlantic, "Nonviolence as compliance in Baltimore," by writing, "When protest is used as a justification or cover for anarchistic violence, the concept of protest is made a hypocrisy."
I don't think his comment is much more that a dressed up version of, "How could they do that?"
The problem is not in the question itself, as this sort of cognitive dissonance is a fundamental part of the learning process.
The problem is that we emphasize the wrong word.
When we focus on "they," we focus on how those people over there are not like us, and we label them as people who do not share our humanity. In other words, we create "us" and "them," and then compare "us vs. them."
But what happens if we place the emphasis on "how?"
"How," on the other hand, invites us to see a shared humanity, and to try to understand the depths of one's despair where acts like that may not be permissible, but at least are understandable.
"How" is the bridge to a common ground that "they" will never reach.