Respect and humility in the wake of tragedy
In this age where everyone is on social media and everyone has an opinion, this is perhaps an unpopular Point of View but I hold this conviction very strongly so I’m sharing it in the hopes it resonates with some of you.
I think it’s extremely bad form to publicly push any agenda- even a just one- immediately on the heels of tragedy. There are real humans whose light has been extinguished and many more whose lives are torn apart. It’s possible there are victims and medical personnel still heroically waging the a pitched battle for their lives in emergency rooms and operating theaters even as I write these words. Moreover at this moment there are families who don’t yet know if their sons or daughters are ok. In all likelihood, there are relatives who for one reason or another have not yet even learned the deviating news. As they are searching for information, they should not be wading through op-eds and political rants. They should not not have to filter any additional noise to get the facts. They don’t need anything additional to stir up emotions, and certainly don’t urgently need to know what you, or I think.
I believe in the first 24 to 48 hours, If you are not directly involved, you should signal-boost facts and pertinent information, offer support, your ear and your silence in the immediate aftermath. EG repost emerging information from vetted sources, information on drives for blood, food, shelters etc and vigils or marches. But overall leave space for the all the facts to come out and the human stories to emerge. Let the community, the country and the world sit with the gravity of these events.
Do not be confused. This not a silencing technique. This is an aversion to exploitation, self-promotion and spotlight hogging. Of course, tragedy can and should catalyze and inspire social and political change. Of course preventable tragedy should necessitate policy change. The typhoid epidemic, the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, the AIDS epidemic, Hurricane Katrina are but a few significant examples.
But any relevant policy discussions will still be pertinent in two to three days. Let the people immediately affected have their space, and let them lead the discussion to follow. If you think you’ve got a particularly important insight, write it down and share it shortly. If you ’need’ to discuss something do so privately with people close to you, but not close to the tragedy. Always try to process out, not in.
If you are not at ground zero, if you are not directly involved, you should not be trying to steer the conversation. You may be overwhelmed with sadness and overwhelmed with anger, it’s wonderful that you can be moved by events to your fellow human. But it’s not about your feelings right now. It’s about those human lives who are struggling and directly touched by this tragedy. Let them have this moment. Participate in the discussion to come.
That this is a presidential election year and a hotly contested one, does not change things. I personally think, in the early days any leader with integrity will simply, humbly focus attention and resources on those impacted and little more. Right now, mere hours after the event, I certainly don’t want to hear any talking-heads dissecting and comparing the statements, much less the tweets, of politicians, or making other points about people who are at best tangential to the terrible events this morning. I don’t want to hear if the candidate you like will ‘make it better’, or if the one you don’t like will ‘make it worse’. Even if it’s to point out some demagogue is grandstanding acting contrary to this very notion, that will be self-evident, especially if the rest of us are respectful and on point. It will be just as easy to tear them down in the days to come. This sickens me the same way disreputable media outlets interview victims still processing the event to milk their suffering with leading questions and pressing them for gruesome details to generate extra sensational stories.
Empathy and not opportunity must be the order of the day if we as a race are to evolve; if we as a species are to remain viable. Lets do better by each other, especially in such clear times of need.
*This is written the morning after horrific massacre at the Pulse club in Orlando 2016/05/12, but could apply to dozens of tragedies in recent years, and i fear for many in years to come. Especially those involving minorities, at risk communities, government intervention, violence, firearms and terrorism.