Urban Compass Calgary
Metro keeps a finger on the pulse of our city.
Tragedies and social media don't mix
Sometimes it's OK to just be silent and resist the urge to comment
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In the wake of tragic news, it’s okay to say nothing in response and simply sit with the weight of what you’ve learned.
We need reminding of this at a time of constant online commenting. I know I do. The temptation is to always say something — anything — after a tragedy.
There is no shortage of those, locally and abroad. The attack in Nice, France, that killed more than 80 people. The now-routine police shootings of black Americans. The devastating death of five-year-old Taliyah Marsman, whose mother, Sarah Baillie, was also found dead in her Calgary home last week.
There is a feeling of the world unraveling, of despair and hopelessness.
In the aftermath, our social media feeds fill up with sentiments such as “heartbreaking” and “thoughts and prayers.” But often such words feel hollow, even as we write them.
Depending on the tragedy, there can be a rush to analyze it, explain it, offer an opinion on it.
It seems we always need to do something with it, to make sense of it somehow.
We are less comfortable just quietly sitting with it.
Sometimes I go to say something online after a tragic news story breaks, and realize I have absolutely nothing to contribute. Only recently have I realized that this is okay, that I should pay attention to that knowledge.
There is a place for silent reflection, for feeling the news instead of commenting on it.
It’s taken me awhile to realize this, but being quiet doesn’t mean you’re not paying attention, or that you don’t care.
Unfortunately, social media doesn’t lend itself to quiet reflection. It constantly asks: what do you think? Say something.
It’s tempting to always do that. But we are not heads of state. The world is not waiting for our utterances on current events. That’s a liberating realization.
Yes, I recognize the irony of a columnist—whose job it is to comment on current events—making this point. Like I said, it’s a lesson I’m learning.
Even in this gig, one of the secrets to success is understanding that you don’t have to comment on every piece of news. You can’t.
And when news is coming at you 24/7 and it’s so easy to immediately respond with words, it’s especially important to carve out space for silence.
My partner pointed this out to me recently, after I alerted her to news of a young girl who died after she was struck and killed by a car.
I found out on Twitter after 10 p.m., and again there was that temptation to immediately say something. To me it felt urgent.
My partner pointed out that what I was doing was unhealthy: One can’t frantically react to bad news from sunup to sundown. It benefits no one.
She’s right. We need to give ourselves permission to put down the smartphone, and be quiet.