I have noticed a pattern over the years, and the more I think about it, the more it troubles me. I will freely admit that I have done this many times, and it came to my notice because I sat down the other day to do exactly the same thing. Whenever there is a high-profile terrible event--it doesn't really matter what, but we've had several recently--we say something like, "This was terrible BUT...." and then we insert our own two cents. Usually, we tie the tragedy to something we feel strongly about, and often, these statements at least imply anyone who disagrees is morally culpable for the tragedy. You get a template that looks roughly like this: "This tragedy was terrible, but it shows something I've thought for a long time. If only everyone would agree to [whatever we are saying] it would not happen again..." I will note up front ,that these response are very sincere, and delivered most often with the best of intentions. Or, someone is simply expressing an opinion.
Soon, someone writes a blog about it, then people who are like-minded agree, share the blog and soon, those who disagree find a blog that states their opinion. "There is no excuse for [whatever the tragedy is] BUT..." and soon, these discussions are linked to larger social questions, and soon, they are simply more ammo in our ongoing collective arguments.
It happens anytime there is a shooting, or a brutal crime. It happened with the gorilla shooting, and it's happening even as we speak with that truly tragic and shameful rape case.
Part of this is the way we work through things collectively, I suppose. But I'm not sure it's healthy or productive, and I've been thinking about the old idea of a moment of silence. I wonder if bringing some form of that to the digital era might be a good idea. Not as a rule, but simply as a matter of decorum and decency.
I wonder if we might reclaim some bit of humanity if, for a day or two, we simply said, "This was terrible--period. Those poor people." and then reflect on how we might feel if we or our loved ones were in the same situation. Perhaps we even think about ways we could help the situation. The key being each one of us does that for him or herself--not generously offering prescriptions to fix everyone else.
It's critical we have the freedom to express our opinions. We also need robust debate. Certainly we can learn from terrible tragedies. But I think the scale has tipped too far to one side. I don't think a bit more restraint--personally applied--would hurt us, individually or collectively.
I wonder if seeing these tragedies simply through the eyes of those who are hurt and whose lives are devastated might help us soothe some of the divisions we have, and perhaps turn down the temperature a notch or two on the always-boiling cultural arguments we have.
As it is, there is something a bit ghoulish and inhumane about the way we fall into the habit of using tragedies to advance (even sincerely) and focus on our own sincere point-of-view. I think it ends up dehumanizing us and slowly reinforcing our unfortunate human tendency to see others as objects, supporting characters in our own story.
Beyond the fact idea of simply being more humane, I wonder if this approach might actually bring about greater consensus and progress. It seems to me that when we focus on our core humanity and really understand each other, most differences are not as great as they seem, and arguments often resolve into some kind of shared consensus.
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