A few years ago, my little community was rocked by a school shooting. This wasn’t your “normal” school shooting at a high school or university. (Oh, and I cringe knowing that there is a “normal” to these events.)
This was a shooting at an elementary school — from a young child to a young child.
To be honest, before the SWAT team arrived, and the ambulances whisked away this little girl … Before the candlelight vigils and the prayers and the little city rocked to it’s core … Before all that, I didn’t even know that this school existed. Even though it sat right behind the park I took my kids to on a regular basis.
Like everyone else, I was shocked and saddened when I heard the news. I prayed the victim would recover, and prayed for her family. I watched all the updates on Facebook and in the news as she went through surgery after surgery.
But it still didn’t hit me the way it hits me now.
You see, the school is not just “some school” anymore.
It’s my school. It’s Maddy’s school. I walk the halls daily. I know the classrooms and the teachers and the staff.
It’s the place in which I entrust my daughter’s safety and learning 5 days a week.
And now, when I look back on the pictures of that shooting, I cry. Because now, it’s personal.
When the bombs went off in Paris, and the shooters took to the restaurants and streets on a bustling Friday night … when concert goers became hostages, and concert hall became a tomb … We Westerners were aghast. Horrified. Shocked. Crying. Mourning.
Exactly as we should.
We hashtagged Paris. We changed profile pics. And we prayed (or at least posted that we were praying) for the victims.
But when a similar attack took place in a marketplace in Beirut this week, we were strangely silent. When a university in Kenya was taken by militants, and 148 students were massacred this April, we never even saw a peep about the tragedy.
I’m no psychologist, but I don’t think it takes one to realize we care most about the things that affect us.
And next we care about the things that affect people we know.
And that third tier of caring would be for things that happen to people we can relate to.
Relating is fundamentally at the base of “relate-tionships.”
Some of us are related by genes. Others we relate to because we think similarly, or we share networks, or we do the same things. I think we are designed to CRAVE not only relationships — but the process of relating itself.
Marketers know this and spend some serious cash creating a product or service you can relate to. When I worked as a copywriter for fundraising, as often as I could, I’d begin my letter with a story. A human story. One the receiver of the letter could relate to and feel compassion for — enough that she would open her checkbook and donate to our cause.
I even did it in this blog post, if you hadn’t already noticed.
Seeking out ways to relate affects more than just how I write.
I didn’t really understand the black movement. I mean, logically, yes I understood. I knew racism existed, but I (in my own little white world) didn’t notice the racism. But I didn’t really GET it. Not until a little boy come into our home … And now everything’s changed for me.
Now, if I see racism in the news, or watch a movie with slavery in it, I cry. Because I cannot imagine anyone hating this kid based on his color.
Now, it’s personal.
When I hear about a child getting hurt or killed, it is always horrible. Always.
But somehow, it is even more horrible if that child was the same age as one of my own kids. Because that makes it too real. It’s too close to home. It’s no longer that “I can’t imagine what it would be like to go through that.” Instead, it’s, “I can only imagine the shock, horror and devastating grief I would feel if that were my kid.”
Now, it’s personal.
And so, when Paris this weekend was terrorized, we felt it personally. Some of you have been to France. Many of us have connections there. But even those of us who don’t, we have hit that third tier of connection …. We can relate to the people of Paris.
They are businesswomen and men. They are students and employees. They were white Westerners who looked like us, lived like us, and for all it’s worth, could have been us.
The attack was personal.
When Beirut was attacked, most of us didn’t even hear about it. But even if w had, we hear about attacks every day in the Middle East. We have grown cold to it. Maybe even a bit callous.
Because they are not like us. It is harder to relate.
They are a different color, with different religious and political ideas. They don’t shop in a grocery store, but in a market. Their world gets shot up or blown up all the time. They live under political unrest, dictators and religious militants.
This Lebanese doctor sums it up perfectly in the NY Times article:
“When my people died, no country bothered to light up its landmarks in the colors of their flag,” Elie Fares, a Lebanese doctor, wrote on his blog. “When my people died, they did not send the world into mourning. Their death was but an irrelevant fleck along the international news cycle, something that happens in those parts of the world.”
Something that happens in THOSE parts of the world.
#Beirut = Those parts of the world. Not ours. Them. Not us.
#Paris = Our part of the world. Together. We are the same. We are with you.
I am just as saddened as the rest of you about the Paris terrorist attacks. But I, for one, will not be changing my profile pic to the flag. Not that it would be wrong to do so. But just because I don’t just stand with Paris. My heart is for the world. For the seen, the unseen, the heard and the unheard. The black, the white, the refugee, and yes — even yes — the Muslim.
How can we best show our support for victims without marginalizing others? Do you notice that you tend to care a little less when you can’t relate to someone’s plight?