Turning Compassion into Action

On October 1, 2017, our nation suffered its worst mass murder — now known as the Las Vegas Massacre — when a gunman sprayed bullets into a crowd of 20,000 concertgoers, killing 58 and wounding more than 500. How is it that this horrific event has all but disappeared from the national news? As professionals who have had the honor and privilege of helping families and communities in the aftermath of 9–11, Columbine, Sandy Hook, Orlando, and now Las Vegas, we have four theories about this shrinking news cycle.

Theory #1: Television networks go with the flow when it comes to keeping their audiences glued to the screen. And amid all the other disasters that have occurred, such as those in Puerto Rico, Houston, and Mexico City, Las Vegas simply didn’t have enough staying power. Add to that the entertainment value of Donald Trump’s latest presidential hysterics. Having been transfixed by shows such as Game of Thrones, The Apprentice, and American Idol over the decades, our nation seems to yearn for the NFL, World Series, and next episode of “Breaking News” starring Trump and Harvey Weinstein.

Theory #2: We’ve become desensitized to mass murder. Not only do we get to watch murder and mayhem up close on our high-definition TVs, concierge movie theaters, and video games, but it is a daily part of our addiction to “Breaking News.” Our nervous systems and brains are becoming acclimated to these overwhelmingly terrifying and unfiltered images by making us almost immune to them. We disassociate from our own fear, anger, and sense of outrage and simply go about our business.

Theory #3: Why get all up in arms (pun intended) about more people being slaughtered by a madman with automatic weapons designed for warfare when nothing is going to be done about it? Many of us thought the murder of 20 innocent five- and six-year-olds in Connecticut would surely be enough to motivate elected officials to change the gun laws. But we were wrong. Once again, we underestimated the lack of backbone on the part of our elected officials, as well as the amount of influence the NRA, gun lobbies, and 2nd Amendment advocates have.

And where is the discussion about the mental-illness component in these mass murders? Too often, many of these tragedies have occurred at the hands of unstable individuals. We hear the FBI profiles and recognize the signs of mental illness that were brewing right in front of us. However, the efforts to reform and improve access to quality mental-health care, education, and proactive approaches to evaluation and treatment seem to have been silenced. Instead, we hear about potential options with policies that opt out of providing behavioral health care. When well-meaning people feel helpless, powerless, and impotent — with the certainty that they just know their voices won’t be heard, it’s simply too disheartening to keep trying.

Theory #4: A less likely but uplifting explanation for why the media coverage of the Las Vegas massacre ended so quickly might be: “The media is pulling back coverage on graphic news stories out of a sense of compassion and concern for the well-being of their viewers. Realizing that their viewing audience is becoming desensitized and retraumatized, they are electing to favor mental health over ratings.”

Compassion is one of the great virtues of humanity. Like any of the other virtues, however, it can turn into a detractor when overused or abused. Watching too many violent movies, news reports, or documentaries on TV can dull our senses. When, as we have seen, a news organization turns away prematurely from a community under siege, we too are invited to slip back into our comfort zones and go on with life as usual. Those who are at the epicenter of these tragedies, of course, do not have that luxury. Having had their dreams obliterated, they have a long and uneven road ahead of them on the path to “normal.” Let’s not stop feeling for them because football, baseball, Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein, or something else seduces us back into a fresh news cycle. Let us remain focused and caring by choosing empathy, patience, and understanding over insensitivity and indifference in everything we do.

Each day affords us endless opportunities to transform compassion into action. Making compassion a daily practice starts with small acts of tuning in, listening, and caring. And then, taking action by rolling up our sleeves and pitching in to help those less fortunate — using our voices, wallets, and social networks to advocate for those in need and hold our leaders accountable. Through active compassion, we become the more caring, resilient, and just versions of ourselves as individuals, and as a society.

Just like those well-known lyrics, “Love and marriage . . . go together like a horse and carriage,” I think of compassion and action as bedfellows. The pain and suffering of families in places like Las Vegas and Puerto Rico is real. And so are the opportunities to walk with and advocate for them. Let’s not forget those who are fighting their way back into life after a season of unspeakable losses. Coming together to support them; making sure they’re getting the help they need; and creating better, safer communities is what really matters in the long run. Not allowing ourselves to be seduced into this week’s Breaking News cycle, and staying focused on what we can do to make a positive difference in somebody else’s life, we turn compassion into action.

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Ken Druck and Melissa Glaser have helped tragedy-stricken families across America for several decades, and worked together as part of the Newtown Recovery and Resiliency Team. Dr. Druck is the author of The Real Rules of Life and Courageous Aging: Your Best Years Ever Reimagined. Glaser’s new book is Healing a Community, due out in 2018.

Please send us your theories about the shrinking news cycle at www.facebook.com/kendruck.

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