In light of the “Paris Attacks” on Friday last week, there have been a lot of comments expressed in Social Media. At first, there were people changing their profile photos to show “solidarity” with France. I was one of them, and I stand by my decision. I did it to signify that I was thinking of and praying for friends and strangers who were affected in any way. Then there was the outrage at how “the Media” and Humanity seem to pick and choose when it comes to what we deem to be “tragic”. I have read all sorts of comments, if not outright arguments between people, that shifted the focus from what happened in Paris to all manner of atrocities committed around the world in recent weeks, months and years.
One minute, it felt as if we were all standing with those affected by the Paris attacks; the next, it seemed as if many of us had changed our minds and hearts because of the lack of media coverage of other atrocities around the world. And so a whole new discussion began; and a very important one at that. The questions seem to be: “What makes France so special?” and “What makes most of the rest of the world NOT so special?”
I think there is no single answer to satisfy anyone. We can be outraged at “The Media”, who very clearly decide what is newsworthy (as a rule); whether or not they make good and fair judgements is up for debate (I think I know what the consensus is, though). We can blame Humanity for our own prejudices and biases.
One way that I understand human nature is this: when something happens in our own country, or perhaps next door, it is so “close to home” that we see and feel its reality far more than when something happens in a country we hardly ever think about, within a culture that may seem quite alien to our own. If children are affected, those of us who are parents put ourselves in the shoes of the parents left childless. We may shed a tear as we see pictures of a lifeless toddler being carried across a beach. We identify with the surviving father who, now not only childless but also wifeless, wishes he could “join them”, wherever they may be.
We connect with some events because some are easier to connect with; whether its geography, mutual parenthood, shared beliefs, and so on, we linger for a time as we contemplate how this affects us (if at all), and then we move on. We thank God (or just feel thankful) that we are alive and well, that our children are alive and well, and then we take them to school, and go off to our jobs, pick them up, make them dinner, give them their baths… wash, rinse, repeat.
I don’t know about you, but I feel torn. On one hand, I feel that I need to be aware of every atrocity, and vent my outrage, pray for those who remain, and pray for the utter destruction of those who commit such acts of evil. But on the other hand, I don’t think I could hold on to my sanity if I was aware of every such act, and if I spent time contemplating every such death. It’s too much to bear.
I was born in Zimbabwe, and enjoyed 23 good years there, even when everything started to “go south”. A visit to the UK in 2001 turned into a one-way trip, and I have never been back to Zimbabwe. Not even for a visit. When asked if I would ever go back, I offer a “no”, for a number of reasons. If you know anything about that country, you will know that just when it seems to hit rock bottom economically and politically, it finds a new low. Awful acts are committed nationwide, with a small minority able to remain largely unaffected (when compared with what the vast majority has been put through).
At some point, other than staying connected with a couple of close childhood friends, I decided to leave Zimbabwe in my past, cherishing the fond memories I have. As a Zimbabwean by birth, though, there are people who tell me that I should be constantly aware of what’s happening over there, believing that “things will get better”. Maybe they will. But do I need to be aware of everything that happens there? Do I need to know who else has had their farm taken over by an army of self-proclaimed “war veterans”, people who weren’t even born when Zimbabwe (then called Rhodesia) was at war?
My point, or one of them, is this: we simply cannot be aware of – and contemplate every – tragedy. Firstly, there’s the practicality of actually being made aware (or making ourselves aware). Secondly, there’s the fact that there is enough evil in this world to stop a Pharrell Williams song dead in its tracks. Just how much of this should I allow to affect me and my very young children? Sometimes, I struggle to believe that there is much of a future for children today – and that’s without bombings and mass shootings. I fear that the more I know, the more I will bend under its weight. I have to find the balance between recognising what’s happening in this world, how it affects me, and channeling that into how I live my life for the sake of those who are my immediate family.
That said, when we are aware of anything upon which we can have a direct or indirect effect, if it is within our power to act, we should carefully and thoughtfully consider what part we can play in standing against evil (a word not used enough, by the way), even if it is just speaking out and making some noise.
If you have some thoughts on this, please feel free to share them.