FROM THE DESK OF: Nina
My blog post for the week is turning out to be much different from what I had originally intended to write about. But after waking up to a Facebook feed full of updates on yet another tragic terrorist event yesterday, I would be remiss to forego addressing the gravity of this incident in place of my usual mundane topic of the week.
Now, I will be the first to admit that entering the arena of global affairs debates is about as enjoyable for me as stepping into a lion’s den. As someone who avoids rocking the boat the boat as much as possible, I strongly dislike engaging in debates about political science, and often think that these “discussions” involve an awful lot of talking at each other and a not a whole lot of insightful communication. But if there is anything I am remotely passionate about within this capacity, it’s a strong sense of advocacy for tolerant, respectful, and constructive dialogue – and a zero tolerance policy for trivializing other people’s views and experiences.
Which brings me to an unsettling pattern I’ve noticed on social media, not just in the wake of this week’s horrific events in Brussels, but also in that of many other attacks our world has unfortunately witnessed in the last couple of years: this strange, competitive sense of “adversity appraisal” evoked by tragic events.
What I mean by this is, it seems to me that every time news of a terrorist attack in the Western world goes viral, the flood of news is viewed by some people as an invitation to “appraise” the tragedy value of that event by comparing it to another equally (if not more severely) tragic event in a less-covered part of the world. For some, it almost becomes a sort of competition for who can best demonstrate their global intellect by naming the most devastating events happening in the world today.
If you’ve seen this kind of social media update, it is usually constructed, give or take, according to the following formula:
“I see all of you posting about Event A in Place A, but where were your prayers for Event B in Place B?”
Examples I see of this are:
- March 2016: Brussels Attacks (Event A) and the Ankara Bombing (Event B)
- November 2015: Paris Attacks (Event A) and the Beirut Bombings (Event B)
- January 2015: Charlie Hebdo Shooting (Event A) and the Baga Massacre (Event B)
Now, don’t get me wrong: I do see the value and intuition of this type of commentary. Thorough coverage of what’s happening in the world is incredibly important, and bringing lesser-known issues to the forefront of discussion is absolutely essential to understanding our world’s grave issues and how we’re going to fix them.
What I do see as problematic, however, is in the “valuation” aspect of comparing two events. With tragedy, it can be easy to weigh the magnitude of adversity in one situation against that of another, and even easier to completely overshadow the sadness of one event with anger that another event is not getting the same coverage. But why must I forego my sympathy for one tragic event to express compassion for another? Why can’t more comments highlight the significance of both events with a unifying inference or theme?
And then there’s the delivery with which this type of comment is made. It’s passionate, yes, but passion can often cloud resonant commentary; too much of it can turn a profound statement into a condescending, judgmental, and trivializing remark. Who wants to learn about a topic when it’s served to you with a slap on the wrist for not knowing about it sooner?
So, to all the adversity appraisers out there: if you wish to share commentary about terrorism and world peace, by all means, share it. But if your intention is to make a comment that will spread awareness and resonate with those in your social network, please – tread gently and thoughtfully. Exercising diplomacy and mindfulness in sharing your words will go a long way. I promise.