We Empathize With Terror Victims, Don’t We?
Remember when multitudes of people draped their social media profile pics with the French flag filter? That was about a year ago, in November 2015. Since then, there have been hundreds more terrorist attacks around the globe, in diverse places such as the United States, Nigeria, Israel, Turkey, Libya, France again, and more. People have not generally made such public displays of empathy and caring as they did for the terror victims in Paris last year. Are we growing tired of such outpourings of emotion in a kind of compassion fatigue often suffered by professionals working with trauma survivors? Perhaps.
My thoughts last year went more to the issue of Political Correctness. Here is what I wrote back then.
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Do you love it or hate it when you see people putting the French flag filter over their Facebook profile pics?
Do you love it or hate it when people respond to outpourings of grief and horror at the Paris attacks with comments such as: What about the daily terror attacks in Israel since October? What about the 150 Kenyan university students who were massacred by Muslim terrorists in April? What about the Beirut bombings just 3 days ago, killing over 40 people, or the passenger plane downed over Sinai that killed more than 200 Russians last month?
Who covered their Facebook profile pics with the Kenyan, Lebanese or Russian flag?
I don’t identify with either of these – not with clothing my image with the French flag nor with taking people to task for not expressing the same kind of horror for the other terror attacks around the globe.
People identify with those who are most like them. Therefore, White people would tend to identify more with other White people, Blacks with Blacks; people from countries with political systems similar to their own would tend to identify with each other more easily and freely than people from hugely different political systems. Ditto cultural backgrounds.
There is nothing wrong with this. I think we are probably biologically wired to identify with those who are similar to us and to have an us-them mentality. Group membership (tribal association) was a way to survive in a cruel primitive world. Old-fashioned tribes have unfortunately, for many peoples, gone the way of the dinosaur, but the attraction of people to those who seem most like them has not. This does not give people license to act barbarically toward those who are different, but it does perhaps explain why so many people in my circle of friends are putting French flag filters over their Facebook images – and did not do so for terrorist victims of the other nationalities mentioned above.
Deciding not to colour my Facebook pic blue-white-red does not imply that I feel no pain for the French victims and their families. I can imagine the fear likely felt by many in Paris today as they walk from one place to another, sit in a café or consider attending a concert or football match. This last multi-attack may have been sufficient to push Paris over a kind of threshold and put almost the entire city into trauma mode. Yes, the triggers will gradually fade, but they will never ever disappear. I know. And I am sorry that the post-war generations of France had to be exposed to the level of terror known all too well by their grandparents (and known all too well by their age-mates in so many other parts of the globe).
So no, I won’t be adding the French flag filter to my Facebook profile pic. But I will put up a new cover photo showing the solidarity of my country with France in the latter’s hour of distress. It is one thing to express country-to-country or city-to-city solidarity; it is something quite different to colour myself, as an individual, with the colours of that other nation. Such an act seems to me to be very intimate and I can only imagine myself being draped with the Israeli flag because the blue-and-white is my heart and soul.
However, come to think of it, were Canada to experience such a tragedy, I would easily don the maple leaf because, being a Canuck born and bred, means that the Canada that I left as an early adult still lies in my heart as well.
So for those of you who adorned your Facebook images with the French colours, I hope you did so because, upon reflection, you discovered that this act of intimacy resonates with your values, your sense of self and your very being-ness. I hope you did not do it because you were afraid to appear coarse or because “everyone else” did. That is the kind of un-thinking that got this world into the very trouble we are facing right now.