how we respond to the awful

I hate it when awful things happen… when tragedy strikes… when the world is witness to evil made manifest… It’s absolutely awful. 

How do we make sense of that which makes no sense? 

How, too, when witness to the awful are we to wisely respond?

Allow me to quickly be clear; this blog will offer no simplistic answer; it’s not so easy to declare what works. But we do seem to know what doesn’t work. We’re passionate people; we engage in a variety of vehement response. But passion doesn’t equate to effectiveness.

Let us thus highlight two chosen, popular, questionable means of response. First, as articulated by Salvy Snr, an author who lives and writes in Nigeria, on how we respond by feeling justified in shaming the silent. Writes Snr:

“As a child — an African child — I grew up being manipulated and guilt-tripped into doing many things I didn’t want to do.

Every wall I faced had a specific kind of graffiti that made me feel bad for my (in)actions. I’d desist from playing football with my friends because, ‘What would people say if they saw the school’s quiz representative soiling himself alongside razz pupils?’ At home, I’d cringe myself into discussions I had no interest in, just to pre-empt verbal kvetchings about me being too detached from the family.

I’d go out of my mentally paved way to do certain things I wasn’t built to do, so as to let the pressure lift away. I was too young to know that my mental health was being compromised.

I’ve seen comments on social media subtly or brazenly guilt-tripping people — celebrities and nobodies alike — for their apparent silence. There have been comments on Twitter such as ‘Kanye West has been uncharacteristically silent,’ ‘I thought [insert famous black woman] was a black woman, too? Why isn’t she saying anything?’ ‘If you’re black, and you’re quiet during these times, you’re racist.’

There are remarks such as these in the thousands. Some get told in person, and are being forced to say something, when in reality no one has a clear understanding of their silence…”

A second popular (albeit not necessarily effective) response is blame. Andrea Blundell, the Editor-in-Chief and lead writer of the Harley Therapy counseling blog, wrote a great piece a few years ago on “Why We Put the Blame On Others” — including the title’s second half: “and the Real Cost We Pay.”

Blundell defines blaming as “the fine art of making others responsible for all the difficult things that happen to us.” She then boldly asks if such is helpful.

Her entire essay is excellent and worth reading. But what’s interesting to note and relevant to today’s post is Blundell’s synopsis of why we blame other people. She includes five succinct reasons — such as how blame allows us to unload our emotions, protect our own ego, and avoid any vulnerability. But it was the first reason that stood out to me.

Reason number one for the blame game?

(Let’s be honest, can we?)

“Blaming others is easy,” writes Blundell. [Emphasis mine.] “Blame means less work as when we blame, we don’t have to be held accountable.”

As said at the onset of this blog, I hate it when awful things happen.

It makes it harder, too, when we respond so poorly.