Sunday, February 03, 2013

Grieve the Moment

I've spend a good deal of time on the internet over the past few years, and I've noticed a number of trends about how people use their social media accounts.

One thing I've learned is that whenever something tragic happens on a visible and public scale, people will inevitable try to immediately change the tone of the conversation away from a consideration of the present tragedy into a comment about some other issue that is morally significant to their interests.  It's not a matter of "if" someone will act in such a manner, it's only a matter of "when."

I observed this phenomenon after the Newtown, Connecticut school massacre.  Obviously, gun control  laws were and still are the popular subject of discussion, but I noticed another trend among many would-be paragons that bothered me.  There were a few folks who expressed some sentiment along the following lines "The murder of 26 children and school officials at Newtown was terrible but our country has legally aborted over 50 million babies since 1973!" Granted, that's a true statistic, but why does one think it's wise to frame the discussion in that light?  And as atrocious as abortion is, the argument against its legalization is not advanced by diminishing the severity of a mass-scale elementary school shooting.

I don't fully understand why people feel justified in doing this kind of "morality juke."  But I suspect the best explanation might be that the tragedy of the moment doesn't quite connect with their emotions at a truly personal level.  Although nearly two dozen children died (who most of the nation knew not by memory but only by their names and faces), some people immediately wanted to get angry about something else.  Such comments do nothing to console the pain of the grieving families of the slain.  If it were my children, parents, or siblings who were the victims, then I am certain that my soul wouldn't care about being burdened by an additional moral outrage.

As a point of illustration, I recall this same tendency in comments that were made in the context of local news reports about the car accident that claimed the life of my friend Stacy Ellison.

On the news broadcast that aired on television that night, the news reporter narrated the events of the crash and then abruptly changed the subject.  She warned that more automobile fatalities might be in store for Louisville drivers as wintry weather conditions descended upon the city.  Then, as a clip of my friend's crumpled Ford Taurus was displayed on the screen, she issued a morbid warning about the dangers of distracted driving.  I don't know if either Stacy or the truck driver who crossed lanes and collided with him were driving distracted at the time (though based on what I've read, the other driver simply had a medical attack and lost control in an instant), but that question certainly didn't matter to me. I know for certain that wintry weather conditions weren't a factor, but the nightly news nevertheless felt the need to create a narrative where it didn't need to exist.  If I were to ever have the opportunity to have a face-to-face conversation with that reporter, I would feel compelled to ask her why she felt the need to dismiss the immediate tragedy like she did. 

But I suppose I already know what the answer might be.  The fact is that while a fatal automobile accident in a Metro area is both public and newsworthy, it simply doesn't have much emotional power unless one actually knew the victims involved.  It was only newsworthy as a local story, not as a national tragedy.  And the only people who really had to suffer were the victims and the people who knew them and their families.  Those who weren't personally affected by the event could simply divert their minds to other concerns and move on with their life routines.

My hope is we will cease our habits of dismissing the impact of immediate tragedies in order to draw attention to other subjects, however important they might be.  Let us do more to follow the example of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, who grieved with their suffering friend for seven days and seven nights without even daring to offer a word, as Scripture recounts in Job 2:11-13.  And let us avoid the imitation of their eventual attempts to shift the narrative from one of grief into irate moral diatribe.  Though there is much evil and suffering in the world that might pain us and remain ever with us, we are often best served to focus on the present crisis of a fresh wound... and grieve in the moment.


  1. I'm so glad you mentioned that about Newtown and abortion. I had to hold my tongue for quite awhile through posts on that. And I can only imagine how frustrating that report must have been to watch when they did something similar to an event which touched you so personally!

  2. I expect there a number of folks who likewise have to bite their tongues not to add any additional fuel to the fire.

    Although, I can sympathize with the motivation of other-wise kind folks who desire to speak to a moral issue that clearly pains them deeply, I fear they do more harm than good to the "Choose Life" cause when they act in such a way. Such comments can do irreparable harm to the consciences of the very people whose hearts and minds we are trying to convince.