Tuesday, April 16, 2013

I Say Something

I've noticed a theme recently with many of my pursuits of choice, and that theme seems to be "Things that should be fun and awesome, but kind of aren't lately." I don't really want to get into the details of all of that (at least not now), but that's where my head was as I began excitedly tracking my friends in Boston Monday morning. *Finally*, I was thinking, something that can just be fun and uncomplicated.

So much for that.

I never know what to say in situations like this. Scratch that; I never know what to say in any emotionally charged moment. It is something I genuinely suck at in life. Because I'm pretty sure anything I possibly say or do will be wrong, or trite, or maudlin, or come across as fake-sounding, and because saying something because you feel obligated to rather than because you feel impelled to still seems kind of un-genuine to me. I'm a firm believer that, contrary to popular belief, the world does not always need more voices.

I have had a few friends go through personal tragedies in this past year, though, & some advice one of them shared with me is that in a tragedy, saying nothing is not a neutral response. Saying something, no matter how badly you screw it up, is always better. So here's something.

I am going to skip all the platitudes that have already been repeated so many times you probably have them memorized; obviously I am thinking them because who isn't, but you don't need to read them in yet *another* blog post (although statistically speaking I'm sure I'm repeating someone).

Every time I hear of one more bombing, one more shooting, one more human-initiated tragedy, it's like a punch to the gut out of nowhere. It makes me feel like throwing up because there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. I mean yes, there are some things I can do very indirectly and long-term and at great remove, but there is nothing I personally can do ahead of time to stop any specific incident. There are people in the world whose job it is to do the best they can at that, but they are not infallible.

It's the helplessness that gets me. A flash of that sick, punched-in-the-gut feeling, a rush of adrenaline and panic if I happened to know anyone thereabouts, and then having confirmed their safety, numbness. Because I have a finite well of emotional energy, and at a certain point the emotional part of me learned the hard way the consequences of depleting it. You never know how much you're going to need.

The other feeling I get in response to tragedies of human violence is anger. The icy, focused, rational type of anger. Because, in addition to stealing lives and physical, mental, and emotional health in myriad different ways, people who perpetrate those acts steal something else as well--the fundamental sense of safety and well-being that people should be able to have when they go somewhere like a sporting event or a movie theater or their school. While deaths and injuries and psychological trauma will of course affect those who lived through it in ways unimaginable to most of us, that lost sense of security and safety and predictability of the world is incredibly damaging in the long-term and shakes everyone who hears about it. If it could happen there, why not here? If it happened then, why not tomorrow or next week? Why not my school? My movie theater? The high-profile sporting event I attended?

Third, I have a request. I would encourage people not to refer to acts of violence like what happened as Boston as "senseless" and "meaningless." Humans voluntarily perpetrating violence is not a matter of rolling dice or spinning a wheel. Humans have free will and choice and motivation. It wasn't an accident. Someone or some group chose to do this for a reason. They had a purpose, even if that purpose was only to hurt people or cause chaos. When we refer to violence and crime and "senseless" and "meaningless," we surrender what control we do have over these situations and abdicate our responsibility to do what we can to prevent them. And we do have some control. Not a huge amount, necessarily, and most likely a confluence of many small, indirect measures brought together. But we need to face these situations by saying, "This was an event, and an event has a cause, and causes can be discovered and studied and understood." We prevent terrible events by finding & understanding their causes. Which means admitting the causes exist, that they have a logic behind them that we can learn to understand, not pretending they don't exist by labeling tragic events as "senseless" and "illogical."

Finally, for those of you who are tempted to give up on humanity altogether when something like this happens (which is kind of an understandable impulse), I want to share with you a few things I learned yesterday evening from Don, who works at Twitter. I saw a quote today from an executive there that echoes more or less what he said to me last night, which was that Monday afternoon really exemplified the service at its best and worst.

On the one hand, you had people tweeting racial accusations and epithets, conspiracy theories, and any number of fake / made up stories, on top of the usual onslaught of premature conclusions and proto-news that will probably always be one of the cons of being able to share information so quickly now.

On the other hand, the positive response was overwhelming. Their system was inundated with tweets from people willing to house and assist lost and stranded runners, restaurants offering to feed them for free, and information from government offices and other organizations about how to locate friends, families, & loved ones. Sometimes it is greatly, greatly reassuring to see what human beings are still willing to do for strangers in times of tragedy and need.

I am staying quiet on the issue of responding until we know more about who is responsible and what their motivations were for this horrific crime. It's easy to make assumptions about why someone would do this, but at this point we don't know. In the mean time, take a quiet moment today to think about those who were injured or killed, and their families & loved ones. They are the ones who deserve our attention and thoughts right now, not the perpetrators.

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