Why our reactions to tragedy matter.

When a mass tragedy occurs, we react. We exhibit compassion, fear, anger, revulsion, confusion, or some unidentifiable emotional cocktail. Strong feelings can move us to act and this is a good thing. Intense emotions can be harnessed for positive actions and God, we need so much positivity right now.

We react most effectively when we feel a connection to trauma and we’re naturally wired to care about the issues which directly affect us. It is how we function best in a community because it fosters the understanding that what impacts one of us impacts all of us.

Take, for example, that I am a straight, cis-gendered woman. Despite this, Orlando broke my heart thinking of my LGBTQ friends and how it could have been one of them at Pulse.

Or how I am a Christian, but when I hear fear-mongering Islamaphobic comments, my heart hurts considering how those words fall on the ears of my Muslim friends.

Or that I am white, but when I hear the skepticism regarding the validity of the Black Lives Matter movement, I am horrified when contrasting this sentiment with the individual stories of fear and systemic racism experienced by my black friends.

And when I read about Nice, France last night, I felt a visceral fear over the safety of my Maman Français, with whom I lived just outside of Nice on a college study abroad- a city and country which has shaped so much of my adulthood.

Each of these mass tragedies moved me to speak up and speak out because I felt connected to them despite all of the ways which, at first glance, would place me separate from those immediately impacted. I have to constantly push myself to seek to understand those around me even though my natural reaction is often to retract inside of the safety of that which I am comfortable. It is hard, emotional work to overcome the apathy which threatens to mute my words and silence my actions.

Friends, we can no longer tolerate apathy in ourselves.

Apathy is at risk of creating more dangerous outcomes than fear and hatred. When we see tragedy replayed and repeated, our inclination is to shrug with the sense of futility in it all and then tune out completely. It is a defense mechanism which we must actively fight to reject.

Danielle, my Maman Français, in Nice upon a return visit to introduce her to Ryan, my husband.

Danielle, my Maman Français, in Nice upon a return visit to introduce her to my husband.

Ideally, individual relationships bring about the most change but they take time and, because of this, the power of first steps cannot be underestimated. We can start by looking up open community events, visiting a museum we may not have otherwise considered visiting on a vacation, reading literature written by authors outside of our race, religion, lifestyle, gender identification, or native country, and considering joining a Facebook group open to those willing to learn. Relationships stem from a genuine desire to listen and understand. First steps, even small ones, matter.

Our hope in the midst of such brokenness is our connection to faces, names, and stories. They move us forward. They bring the macro back to the micro. They refocus our perceived futility. This we can do, WE CAN DO THIS. We must take the small steps, friends, so we may be well equipped to bring light in the midst of darkness.

Listen well.

Read widely.

Extend a hand.

Lend an ear.

Love well.

Reject the apathy.

 

 

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