Disclaimer: SOCs are stream of consciousness posts meaning that, in many cases, it’s documenting what I am feeling, thinking at a particular moment. That being said, their ideas that may be fleeting; and in a few months or years I’ll be shaking my head to. As SOC posts, these opinions are obviously my own.
Is there a fine line between empathizing with a tragedy and selfishly associating with it? This has been nagging at me this entire week. Obviously, the tragedy in question is the Boston marathon bombings and, to a much lesser extent, the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas.
I personally didn’t really address either of these two tragedies on any of my social media sites, with the obvious exception being this post. For me it was a matter of not really being able to put into words what exactly I felt as a result of shock and not indifference. It was also because i was unable to synthesize how these two incidents.
And to some extent, I didn’t want to selfishly project myself on these tragedies because, their horrible nature aside, these two incidents are also very intimate. One of the popular words to have come out of this past week is “community”. For example, in my yoga bootcamp the instructor noted that the marathon bombings reinforce this sense of community found in runners. I agree, the running community is supportive and accessible, but; for most of the community the events this past Monday are far removed from their everyday life. It’s important to, as a community, come to the aid of those directly affected by the tragedy; by offering solace, by making themselves available, by providing hope and strength. However, this sense of community should not diminish the intimacy of the event, again no matter how tragic, that those running the marathon are now a part of. In a sense, the runners of the Boston marathon are a smaller, more intimate community within the larger running community.
As much as we want to comfort those involved it’s important to not invade their experience by injecting ourselves into that experience. This is especially true for those of us who don’t have close ones that were actually in Boston; that weren’t directly involved.
I think it’s human nature [more on this in a little bit] to want to empathize and relate what’s happening in our lives with what happened in Boston. To parallel our experiences as it were. Example: One of my Facebook friends was shopping at her local CVS when one of the walls collapsed. She documented her experience on Facebook and ended the post with something similar to “I can’t imagine how the people in Boston felt.” While, no doubt, a wall collapsing is traumatizing in its own right, what she tried to do, even though it may not seem so, is associate her experience with the larger Boston experience. You may think, “oh, but she explicitly said she couldn’t imagine…” so she isn’t paralleling these two experiences. But really, if you think about it, she is. Just the mention of Boston automatically prods those reading the post to associate and compare/contrast these two separate incidents.
I’m not saying that she did this consciously and in a way to garner more sympathy; in fact, it was probably a spur of the moment adrenaline induced post. However, ultimately, in my opinion it also reinforces this selfish, if subconscious, streak in us. This desire, again conscious or not, to want to be part of the action as it were. To associate ourselves with something larger, regardless of its positive or negative nature. Again, it’s this sense of community. I mean, it’s innate in our nature right; to be part of a group, clan, family; community. We are social creatures, after all.
Although I didn’t acknowledge, or address what happened this past week on my social media platforms I did stay up-to-date with what was happening. We collectively as an office, a community you might say, tuned into the final moments of the manhunt as the youngest Tsarnaev gave himself up. One of the images that resonated with me was this one.
It reinforced the feelings (of disgust, sadness, and anger) that surfaced when I read my friend’s post. I mean, who are we as Americans to selfishly want to integrate ourselves into this personal and intimate tragedy. The picture reinforced this idea because here’s a group of individuals; young and old who have a very real and visceral tie to what happened. I mean, these people deal with bombings; of their homes, neighborhoods, schools daily. It’s a fear that they constantly have to live with.
It brings to question why we don’t empathize and inject ourselves into this constant terror. I know that it’s not in our immediate vicinity and it’s not happening to “people that could have, conceivably, been us; but still. It brings to light the fact that this sense of community is limited; to geographical areas, similar backgrounds and culture, and religion. This sense of community that is confined is evident, sadly, in the immediate reaction after the bombings; of scapegoating those that seem to be Arabs, middle eastern, those that when things come to push and shove are not a part of the community.
I guess I’ll end this rambling, extremely stream of conscious post with the notion that instead of being selfish and injecting ourselves into the intimate tragedy of others we should look to community as a way to overcome these notions of us vs. them that are especially apparent in times of great tragedy and anguish. I know its really kumbaya-ish of me, but really its just an extension of our human nature as social creatures.