Tragedy sparks empathy – don’t smear it

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Woman lays flowers in Brussels. Photo: Velntin Bianchi/AP.

The images to have emerged from Brussels are gripping and tragic, and as the death count rises, it is impossible to not put this disaster on a par with the Paris bombings in November.

After the Paris attacks, tributes flowed from across the globe for the victims and their families. It almost turned into a marketing campaign, with French designer Jean Jullien’s Peace for Paris logo taking over Facebook and Twitter profile pictures.

As Twitter and Facebook turned blue, white and red, and cries of #JeSuisParis rang out across the Internet, there were those who turned on to the social media outpours with a derisory tone, and a upward nose.

And it is happening again.

Anne Perkins wrote for the Guardian: “Now that it is so easy to do, public sympathy is becoming a corrupted currency. Politicians, terrified of being behind the social media curve, are always at it.

“Memorialising individual soldiers killed in conflict as happened throughout the last decade may be justifiable (a Blair innovation in the aftermath of Iraq): they were there at the politicians’ behest.

“But nowadays any disaster that is reported, regardless of how lacking in any but the most personal consequences – terrible though they must be for the families concerned – is treated as a matter for public expressions of sympathy by government and opposition MPs alike.”

For many critics, the act of empathy is one of self -indulgence and -promotion; a “just-doing-it-for-the-likes”, instead of an outward-looking act of solidarity.

I disagree with this stance, although it should be noted no one description can be applied to everyone.

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Peace for Paris. Marketing tragedy? Designer: Jean Jullien

For many, events such as the Paris or Brussels attacks do have a deep effect on. Perhaps due to its proximity, the two attacks were felt far more than those in Ankara, which saw very little attention online.

It is very likely attacks such as those in Turkey were spoken about far more intensely in Turkey than in Europe and the Americas, simply due to its proximity; and sometimes the Internet web does not connect every one of us, so some miss what is strong in other areas of the world.

But tackling something is multifaceted and ever-moving as terrorism is difficult, and for the average person there appears little they can do except show their support on social media, through use of hashtags, changing profile pictures.

What happens next? Naturally it dies away. Interest shifts, and the habit of humans is we find something else to preoccupy us.

What matters is that even a small number will take up an active role to make things better, but for many there appears little they can do.

Of course, there remains a peer-pressure complex: “I should have something on my Facebook showing support for these people, else I will be seen as cold-hearted.”

On social media, very little can be hidden, and it is possible a number of people do not truly mean what they are empathetic on the issue.

But as our world becomes increasingly knitted together, it is to be expected this way of doing things will continue.

What I would ask people is to think of an alternative; what else can you think of doing to support those involved in attacks and tragedies like those of Brussels?

In the days before the Internet, it is unlikely we would even know an awful lot about these events, and if we did, in nowhere near the time we would have. Furthermore, the extent of material in video and photos would be far smaller in the time before social media.

Some things include donating to the Belgian Red Cross; there is a GoFundMe campaign raising money, too; and the hashtag #ikwilhelpen (I want to help) is being used in Brussels to help those unable to sleep in their own homes.

Beyond this, we must show solidarity as a global community, and hope others would do the same for us and our families in times such as these.

 

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