I used to avoid the news at almost all costs. This isn’t all that surprising considering that when I was a teenager “Columbine happened” and then “911 happened” (I find the language we use to discuss our tragedies utterly bizarre). I was a young person. I couldn’t even vote, and I felt entirely powerless. I also was a nerd, and I had this theory that humans are empathetic, but that our empathy works best in smaller communities. So, before all this technology started to connect the whole world, if you found out about something bad happening, it probably happened to someone you knew, or at least someone who knew someone you knew. I realized that if I was going to be sad for every single person who died, or even every single person who died in a tragic way, then I would have to be sad forever all the time. I didn’t want that, I was a teenager, I was sad enough already. Since I viewed the news as inherently negative (again, so surprise there) I cut it out of my life. It hurt less.
These days I am an adult, not a sad teenager, a truth which I am grateful for. I have a slightly more nuanced understanding of news and current events, and will concede that it is probably sometimes a good idea to be informed. I don’t try so hard to avoid the news. And now, thanks to facebook, google reader, and a million other tiny bits of technology which connect us all (and connect us to more and more information) the news is a whole lot harder to avoid. I don’t have to seek it out. It comes to me. And I still struggle with that. I struggle with knowing where to draw the line. When is it important to be informed? And when is it important to turn the damn machines off so one can focus on the things that are actually in one’s life?
I don’t have any answers. Mostly I try to take it on a case by case basis, and to be perfectly honest, most of the time I feel like I’m failing. Either I’m too detached, too reserved, and not ready to spring into action when action is needed because of it, or I’m on media overload and I desperately need to close the lap top, play with my cats, write a letter to someone I miss, do anything else in the world.
On Friday something horrible happened. You already know what it was. What is is. Almost every blog I read published something on it. My facebook was exploded with condolences and prayers, sadness and anger. Mostly, I have been avoiding it. And I feel weird and guilty about that. And I also feel weird and guilty about the Pakistani children who die everyday. While America grieves for the (mostly white) innocent children who were gunned down needlessly, the needless slaughter of the (mostly brown) children goes largely undiscussed and unchallenged. Why is that? Is it because it is sanctioned by our government? Is it because we are way more racist than we would ever want to believe we are? Is it because we are more afraid of this kind of killing, because it feels more personal (it feels like it could have been our children or the children of our friends)? Is it because it is geographically closer? I’m guessing the answers vary from person to person.
I’d been avoiding reading about it. I know what happened, how could I not? Then today I thought I might browse some of the blog posts. I don’t want to join the throngs of people proclaiming “everyone is reacting to this wrong except for me!” but goddamn, I have some mixed feelings about the things that I have been reading. Here are a few of them:
1. Anarchists who are pushing for more gun regulation and/or full out banning of guns. I don’t get it. I mean I get why someone might think guns should be harder to get, and I get why someone might be in anarchist, but I don’t understand how the two can coexist inside of one human.
2. I really really wish that we could talk about mental illness in a respectful way.
3. People seem to have this amazing ability to look at a tragedy, see that it is tragic, and then announce that this tragedy totally proves that their position on the issues is the only correct one. I don’t know if this particular tragedy proves anything or doesn’t prove anything, I really don’t. What I do want to say (as respectfully as possible) is that that attitude seems a little disrespectful to the dead.
4. Seriously though. Can we please talk about the government sanctioned killing of innocent children, and how that is not ok? Can we please grieve for them, if innocent children are truly so important to us?
5. We live in a world that promotes, sanctions, and rewards so many kinds of violence.
6. And then I came across this line “Well, today I got an email from a reader drawing a parallel I found fascinating.” And it occurred to me, that with all my desire to distance myself from tragedy, I don’t ever want to find violence “fascinating” or intellectually interesting at all. I want to let it just be sad.