Field of Science

Slaughter in Sandy Hook: What Facebook Taught Me

'Nothing brings people together like a tragedy' is a phrase we learn early in life, usually after the first tragedy we experience. That's often a good thing, but it can also be a bad thing. Think about how Americans came together after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, then think about how some people came together to ostracize people with brown skin assumed to be of the Islamic faith.

Yesterday a young man armed with a number of guns, killed his mother, entered the school she worked in and assassinated 20 elementary school children and 6 adults, before turning the gun on himself.  The news spread like wildfire and although there was no new information for hours, updates (saying nothing new) were constantly coming. Of course social media networks blew up as well and then I learned (relearned actually) a number of things about people.

First, people are caring and empathetic to the parents, surviving children, and community.
People are also lazy and unwilling to actually do anything helpful for the parents, surviving children, and community.

For example, my facebook feed was littered with the following prayers and calls for prayers:

Nothing says commitment to helping those in need like hitting the 'share' button. Way to really do something about the tragedy. You can't actually come up with a sound-bite statement on your own, so you use one someone else made. Did you at least take a minute or two to add a comment. Actually no, in fact almost every single one of these posts that were shared (by multiple people) did not contain a word of extra text personalizing the 'share'. So we can click the 'share' button and select OK, because that truly embodies personal caring and empathy to the parents, surviving children, and community. But taking the time to do something useful, well that's just crazy talk.

Looking back on it, these kind of platitudes make some sense. The whole idea is that thinking, praying, or at least acknowledging that some people somewhere are suffering equates with helping in some way.  Why do people think that praying is in some way helpful? Do you believe god is sitting around taking a head count of how many prayers he gets? Once he gets the necessary number he will help otherwise, nada. Actually a lot of people do believe this, which is why see people praying for rain in Texas and Georgia.
You want to actually do something to help? Here is a short list I came up with in response to the plethora of empty platitudes.
  1. Donate blood. I know, you may not live in the Sandy Hook area. But your blood is needed by someone. You could actually save someone's life by spending a few minutes at a donation center. You could spend the time while donating sharing how you are actually doing something to help people. You can even pray while you are actually helping if it makes you feel better.
  2. Donate time to the affected families, shovel their driveways, cook some meals, etc. Don't live in the area, donate some time to help a neighbor, colleague, or the community. You know just generally make the world a better place.
  3. Write letters of condolences-support to the affected community. Even a simple letter to the editor of the Sandy Hook local newspaper. (It's the Newton Bee if you are interested.) You could write letters to the Board of Selectman of Newton CT or Sandy Hook elementary school. I expect your letters would reach some appropriate ears.
  4. You could push to change public policy to help avoid these kinds of shootings in the future. You could try to implement tougher gun laws, or make access to mental health services easier, or restrict violent video games, or whatever you think will make a difference. You may be wrong, you may not succeed, but at least you would be doing something.
  5. Spend time with your children, other family, friends. Let them know they are important to you. You should probably spend 10 times more with those you love than you do watching the news waiting for the important new information that comes once every 48 hours or so.
The second thing I learned, people will use any excuse to advocate for their favorite cause.

The two big ones I saw were gun control and not enough god. Yes, gun control would help. Yes, now is a good time to discuss it. No, empty platitudes regarding guns are about as helpful as praying. The second picture about gun control is even counter-productive. Anyone looking at it should realize the problem, it is not controlled for population. If we assume the numbers are correct, the fact that there were almost 11,000 handgun deaths in the US compared to almost 50 in Japan is meaningless unless you already know that the population of Japan is one-third  that of the US!

Then of course the persecuted Christians who are at war for Christmas need to screech about god and schools. Please just shut the fuck up. Your kids can pray before school starts, between classes, at lunch, recess, whenever they damn well want as long as it doesn't inhibit the learning of others. What you don't get to have is the government forcing every child in the school to have your preferred beliefs indoctrinated into them.

But really?!?! You worship a god who is so insecure that unless he is constantly being told how great he is, he will send a young adult to kill someone elses' kids. That is the take home message of the above picture. I see where that viewpoint comes from, the Abrahamic religions were founded on the story of a dad who was told to kill his son and was happy to do it (of course the prank was called off at the last minute). Hell, the Noah's ark story is the complete genocide of every man, woman, child, infant, and baby on the planet except for 8 adults (not called off).

The third thing I learned is that some people to realize the importance of community and that we should care about each other.

Now is a good time to remind our children that these tragedies are extremely rare and that they have friends and families that love and care for them. Of course, this is also an empty platitude unless it is acted upon. Saying you love your kid, but ignoring the problems they have is useless love. Telling someone you are there for them and not being there, the same as nothing. (Remember this the next time you see someone with an "I support the troops" bumper sticker. Feel free to ask them how, 99 times out of 100 they simply put a bumper 
sticker on their vehicle and maybe prayed a bunch.) 

So if you want to help, then do something. Otherwise, Ill go on assuming you are just trying to make yourself feel better by letting everyone know you really care by sharing empty platitudes.

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