On Friday December 14, my kids (8 and 11) missed school. They were coughing and stuffy-nosed so I kept them home. Murphy’s Law prevented me from accessing the Internet in the morning, so I decided to run some errands instead. As I finally sat down to work, hours later, I received the automated Friday call from my eldest’s middle school principal. I half-listened to the routine announcements as I logged on to the Web. But when I heard “the shootings this morning,” and “increased police presence at school,” my heart sank.
At the same time, I read the headlines on the Internet and learned about the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre that occurred earlier that morning. My kids were sitting close to me, reading books and chattering away as usual. In the meantime, I scanned social media and digital media for answers.
I read tweets announcing giveaways and beauty tips, interspersed with headlines telling of the deaths of 6-year olds at the hands of a heavily armed gunman.The apparent disconnect was distressing.
I immediately stopped regular social media activity on my personal accounts and on Mamiverse. This may seem like a small thing to do, but it was all I could do—and the least I could do—out of respect for the victims, their siblings, their parents, the community, who were hit so hard by such an unimaginable tragedy.
With a heavy heart and in disbelief, I followed the news as the story unfolded over the weekend. Social media poured with tweets and posts of dubious veracity. Some digital media outlets covered the story from every possible SEO angle. People had heated online discussions about gun control, mental illness, and heightened security at schools. Others scoffed at the pain of those who publicly expressed their heartbreak over the event, stating that kids die every day in other countries. So why should we be more concerned or sad about the massacre in Connecticut?
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Posts on blogs and other online media outlets sprung by the hour. Some of them seemed to shed light on certain aspects of the tragedy, but many did not add anything to the conversation. They were mostly attacks on other people’s points of view.
Mamiverse is not a news outlet; we don’t have reporters covering breaking news. We don’t use a wire service. So it made little sense to publish anything about the tragedy until the initial shock and confusion subsided and we had more information.
After sending my own kids to school on Monday for the first time after the shootings, I got back to work. Once online, one thing struck me more than the gun control, violence or mental health debates: the lack of empathy for how people chose to express themselves regarding the shooting.
Social media gives us all an immediate outlet to publicly express our opinions, views and feelings. How one deals with such news is very personal, and nobody else has the right to judge it. True, many children die unjustly every day in different parts of the world. True, no child’s death is more tragic than another. True, there is daily horror worldwide. But also true: it’s natural for some people to be more affected than others by a certain event or tragedy.
It’s natural for a teacher or for a parent of young children in the U.S. to be more shaken and distressed than others by the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The same way that it’s normal for someone who’s lost a loved one to cancer to be more sensitive than others to news about the illness. So, who are we to judge how others process such an unfortunate event as the massacre in a school in Connecticut?
Why are we so quick to judge? Why can’t we allow others to grieve, or to abstain from grieving as needed without condemning them?
I grew up in Spain, where as a child, I would learn that a shopping center had been bombed by terrorists. Of course I was concerned that my family might be killed at the neighborhood supermarket. I was not so scared when I heard of war in a foreign country—it seemed so far removed from my daily life. But it’s normal to feel shattered, scared or deeply sad when tragedy hits too close to home.
That said, I—like many other moms, I’m sure—am left to wonder what I can do to help prevent further violence and horror in the country where I live, whether it’s joining in the pro gun-control movement, pushing for better mental health care or promoting an atmosphere of dialogue, empathy and respect vs. violence, starting in the home. I keep thinking it could have been my kids …
It’s time for our society to look in the mirror and take action, instead of pointing fingers. If we can’t lead by example, we can’t lead. Not our children, not our families, not our staff, not our country and certainly not the rest of the world.