I wrote this post about a week ago, before the Orlando shooting. I felt it was important to post now, as we mourn again.
One morning, in mid-August 2014, I woke up to around 64 notifications from Facebook on my phone. It was mad. I had notifications about people I didn’t even remember I still had on my Facebook. No matter how I had met these people in the past, no matter how well I knew them, they were united in their grief. Robin Williams had died. Robin Williams – the Genie from Aladdin, Peter Pan from Hook, Rainbow Randolph from Death to Smoochie – had taken his own life, and we all felt like we had lost someone. We all mourned.
Until we were starkly reminded by keyboard warriors that he was “just a celebrity” and that “ordinary people die every day” and that we were bad for publicly grieving one individual. There was criticism and damnation of our sorrow. How dare people who did not know this man feel sad that he was gone? How dare we feel empathy and publicly express our condolences to his family, who would never read our words?
“There was criticism and damnation of our sorrow.”
The message was loud and clear:
If you can’t mourn EVERYONE you shouldn’t mourn ANYONE.
This grief-shaming attitude is now prevalent in our online community, and it makes my heart sad. In 2015, Paris was bookended with tragedy – the Charlie Hebdo shooting in January and the siege in November – and the world was shocked. Paris was safe, Paris was local, Paris was our neighbour. For me, there was a feeling of “I could have been there”. Unlike a bombing in Beirut or the Sudan, I could potentially have felt the impact of these tragedies on a personal level. Je Suis Paris. I think a number of other people felt this way, because Facebook profile pictures lit up red, white and blue to show solidarity to our Parisian brethren. Nous Sommes Paris.
And then out came the criticism. How dare you mourn Paris? What about the bombings in the Lebanon? Why can’t I change my Facebook picture to have a Pakistani flag filter? Are Parisian lives more valuable than Palestinian lives?
Now, I need to make it clear, I in no way think any country’s lives are more valuable than others, but I do think that for most people the way you relate to something plays a part in how much attention people pay to causes. Just like Robin Williams, he was part of our lives. He was an eccentric part of the furniture (who grew a beard for serious roles). Paris is where people went on school trips, to visit a slightly rubbish version of Disneyland, and to ask where libraries and discos were. They are both tangible. Real.
“The way you relate to something plays a part in how much attention people pay to causes”
Now I’m a big believer in the phrase “be the change you want to see”. And what I saw in these events was not people “being the change they wanted to see” – they were just criticising the lack of attention to other causes while shaming the people who drew attention to the cause in question. “It is a disgrace” some suggested ” that people are mourning XXX and no attention is given to YYY”. And you know what, since then, I’ve seen very few posts on their collective Facebook pages dedicated to Gaza, Palestine, or Sudan. The aim of their rant has not to “be the change” but to make others feel bad for “being the norm”.
Please understand, I don’t want anyone to think I don’t have any empathy for other people and places – I absolutely do – but I also think it’s counterproductive to take apart people for being empathetic to anyone because they haven’t been empathetic about everyone.
So be the change. If you think more should be shared about Palestine, share about Palestine, but it doesn’t need to come from a place of anger and criticism. That says more about you than it does about the cause.
Be the change.
Don’t be a dick.