Saturday, April 21, 2007

How Easily We Lose Sight of What Counts

In times like these, and by that I refer to the tragedy at Virginia Tech, there are so many emotions that arise, especially so on campuses here in the United States. There's shock, there's sadness, and of course there's plenty of anger.

The question really is: And then what?

How do we deal with it? In what way do we move forward, in what avenue do we look at the past, and through whose eyes do we capture our turbulent present?

Apparently through the eyes of people with a lot of opinions, and through the lens of a video camera. There was a New York Times article lamenting on how we've become so accustomed to these kinds of events that whatever happens, we are no longer at a loss for words on TV. And as someone who studied the media in my first degree, it's a little shocking to watch Larry King, and know that in the midst of this terrible event, there's a large and silent team of people behind your television screen: the ones who decide when to fade in the dramatic music, and rescreen the footage of armed cops behind cars as guest speaker Dr Phil pans in, right as the lower banner announces that there's a CNN special over the weekend. And bam, boom, it's commercial time.

Maybe that's why the symbol of respect remains a moment of silence.

But I'm not really that surprised; one of the things one realizes when you study journalism is that the "news industry" is short for the bad news industry.

What did surprise me is how quickly the response to pain and suffering is finding a way to blame it on something, or at least find something to symbolize the fear. And it's only surprising because for the first time, I've seen it up close - when the description of the shooter was quite simply young, short and Asian, I had a strong suspicion that people were looking at me funny, but who knows, maybe it's as much psychosocial as anything else. I felt that all these racial undertones, looking at people or being conscious of whether you were being looked at, were taking away from the fact that 33 mostly young lives were extinguished. A distraction in no less a way than the popular topics of discussion: whether it was the university's fault, whether this says something about gun control, and response of the killer's family. All relevant, and all of which are important, if discussed for the right reasons of starting steps towards closure, improving campus safety everywhere, and finding help for those who need it. A side of me worries that the motive and motivation come instead from elsewhere, from a subsconscious need to assign blame or to provide a quick fix as the only options some people allow themselves to resolve the conflict that didn't end in classrooms in Virginia.

I joined two groups on Facebook, both in s
olidarity with those at Virginia Tech. And what I saw in the comments showed exactly why this terrible tragedy occured. On one group, in order to decide how many days of mourning would be given, there was a debate on whether to make it 32 or 33 - instead of thinking about the simple matter that a terrible thing happened, there was a whole argument about whether to include the killer in the death toll. On the other group, one person made a comment that wasn't particularly smart, saying that there was too much attention on this event. But what was truly shocking was the response:

To come onto a website devoted to remembering this tragedy, and saying that a person who happens to be callous and insensitive is not worthy to live... this is beyond irony. This brings an emotion far longer lasting than immediate anger or fear or all the other waves that will soon crash upon the shore and be a memory of what once was. It brings up: disappointment.

How easily we lose sight of what counts. That is to say: that everyone counts for something, even the ones you don't particularly like. And that the power of creating conflict and looking for an argument is easy, and the moment of silence is difficult. For me, that's the lesson that one student with two guns couldn't seem to learn, and what some others seem to want not to learn.

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