When things like yesterday’s bombings in Boston or the shootings in Newtown happen, I go to this weird place of emotional detachment and just observe everything that’s happening around me. That’s not to say I don’t hurt for the people who are affected — I very much do — it’s just an entrenched defense mechanism left over from life as a reporter. You shut your emotions down so you can do your job until you have time to process it all, but my brain hasn’t yet realized I don’t have a job to do in this case.
Everyone must deal with traumatic events in their own way, and in this era of connectedness, people are trying to process their emotions more and more through social media. And as I was in my weird place yesterday I watched that happen: people questioning why someone would do such a thing, people trying to share tidbits of news, people expressing their prayers, etc. I get this. Getting caught up in every last detail of an event like this comes from the urge to find reason and meaning and comfort. We want to understand why so that we can be comforted that we would never be the cause or the effect of such tragedy.
The thing is, there is no reason to be found in irrational acts. You might get a “why,” but it won’t satisfy, and it may just make you feel angrier or more confused. And getting caught up in the manic flow of information and the noise of social media in traumatic times will make you crazy. Literally — I came out of seven years of working for a 24/7/365 breaking-news media company with a nice side of anxiety disorder.
My encouragement to all of you during traumatic times is to step away from the social media (and media in general) and breathe. Go outside and take a walk or go for a bike ride and be thankful for your life and the lives of your loved ones. Hug your family and friends in person when you can and call or Facetime/Skype them when you can’t. The news will be there at the end of the day or week, whenever you give yourself permission to look again. As an added bonus, taking a break from it will give law enforcement, reporters and everyone else involved time to straighten out the facts and sort out the fiction.
When you do follow the news, do so wisely. Turn off unnecessary noise. Limit the outlets from which you seek your news. (I recommend The Associated Press, which has some of the most rigorous sourcing standards, and the local paper of record, in this case the Boston Globe, which normally will have the best sources and most resources in these situations.) My husband chose to follow just the Globe yesterday, and he said he was glad to have a limited amount of noise while still staying informed of what was happening.
We live in a hyper-connected world where people who want to do damage can easily learn how and obtain the means necessary. We’re all sick of it, but it’s not going to go away anytime soon. That sounds like a resignation to the evil. It’s not because things can still be changed, but until we figure out how to do that on a grander scale, we need to take care of our connection to life around ourselves in the most direct way possible. The connection of social media is good until it isn’t, at which point it’s a distraction or worse.
Love on your loved ones as hard as you can until their time or yours comes. Get to know your neighbors and help them — even the crazy ones. Be kind, gentle and forgiving. Do good in the world. (As Mister Rogers and Patton Oswalt remind us) focus on the good in others. Remember that there’s good in all.