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Stop the black-and-white reactions to tragic events

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Four American women attacked with acid in Marseilles." What did you think when you read that headline? – reported Sky News (UK).

The mere combination of "Americans", "acid" and a French city with a large Muslim population was enough for many to make a spot judgement.

You know, people on Twitter, the ones who post comments under news articles, the ones who know more than anyone else about everything.
"What an evil and cowardly thing to do," wrote one.

Then, as they do, the facts emerged: the attacker, a 41-year-old woman with a "psychiatric history", had herself once been burned with acid and had not specifically targeted Americans but instead sprayed the liquid on the people closest to her.

The police said they were not treating the incident as terrorist-related.

Two of the victims, Michelle Krug and Courtney Siverling, then wrote Facebook posts to reassure friends and family, and ask for compassion for their assailant.

"Please consider thinking about/praying for our attacker so that she may receive the help she needs and deserves. Mental illness is not a choice and should not be villainised," wrote Ms Krug.

Ms Siverling added: "I pray that the attacker would be healed from her mental illness in the name of Jesus and receive the forgiveness and salvation that can only come from Him."

Still, what do they know? "Attacking a group of foreign tourists at a public place sounds an awful lot like an act of terrorism to me," wrote one commenter under a news piece containing all of the above.

"This terminally stupid attitude along with teddy bears and candles is partly what's killing the west. This 'love thine enemy' nonsense has got to stop!" went another.

It made me think of what Figen Murray, mother of Manchester Arena victim Martyn Hett, said about his killer: "I don't hate him. I have forgiven him."

She then added this: "I think it is really important to step back and remember we are human beings. I need to stay within my humanity rather than go down the route of hate and disgust."

Parents of other victims in Manchester had contrasting reactions. It is for none of us to second guess the feelings of people who have lost so much.

But all of us can "step back" and recognise that we all have a part to play in preventing extreme black-and-white reactions to tragic events, that perhaps we don't always know best about other people.

Because the truth is we are very uneven in our judgements.

Psychologists call it the fundamental attribution error: we think other people's bad behaviour is down to their personality or character. We think our own is because of external factors.

Test it out when someone next cuts you up in traffic, or takes too long at the till ahead of you in a shop.

What do you think or mutter about them? Do you wonder whether there might reasons other than that they are more stupid/thoughtless/unpleasant than you? What about when we do it?

You'll find we give ourselves a lot more leeway than others.

Perhaps we can recognise that and give, if not what Courtney Siverling might call "grace", at the very least some benefit of the doubt to each other.

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Reporter: Denes Osvalt
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