I got online this morning to find that, in the last 24 hours, a lot of really awful things have happened in a lot of different places. We live in an age where the woes of the world are rapidly available to us. While part of me feels shock and sorrow over what yesterday brought to a lot of people, another part of me knows this is nothing new. These things have always happened, we just didn’t always know about it. Big disasters, be they natural or man-made, can catch us in a number of ways.
Some of us respond by trying to find meaning. Did we anger the gods? Did we damage the balance? What caused it? How can we prevent it, or better mitigate against the next one? Answers and action give back a sense of control. We like having something to blame. If we’re realistic, this can be helpful, if we come up with some lunacy like ‘god is punishing us for gay people’ then we’re going to make things a whole lot worse.
Some of us respond with despair. Life is short, nasty and brutish. Nature red in tooth and claw. Man’s inhumanity to man. It’s all horrible, we’re all horrible, eventually we will all die. Grief is an essential part of our humanity, but if we let it run too far, and too deeply, we become powerless to act, unable to see the good in anything, and that doesn’t help in the slightest.
Some of us respond by trying to help. We donate to good causes. If we’re really keen, we head out for the area of disaster to help deal with the immediate crisis and the rebuild afterwards. We don’t ask why it happened, we just get on with sorting it out, and in the short term this is often a good response, but if we don’t stop to ask the awkward, uncomfortable questions at some point, things that could have been changed go unchallenged.
Some of us enjoy it. Perhaps because of the challenge, or the drama, or we find it exciting. Perhaps it validates a personal belief or we enjoy the suffering of others.
Some of us go numb, we tune it out, we refuse to feel, to know or to care. It’s not our problem, not our responsibility, we don’t want to know. We think we’re protecting ourselves by not caring, but there is a cost to hardening your heart and looking the other way.
The meanings we ascribe to events, and the choices we make may not have the power to radically change what’s happening out there. What they do is inform our own lives, and shape who we are, and what we do. World events are nothing more than the combined effect of many lives. Each small part may seem irrelevant when viewed alone, but what we do collectively has huge impact.
We can respond with blame, rage, violence. We can respond with apathy and inaction. We can try to help. In the long term we can think about why things happen as they do, and we can think about how to change things. We have those options.