I woke last week to the terrible news of yet another terrorist attack. I spent most of that day in a haze, partly waiting to hear from family and friends in France, but also numbed by the idea that it doesn’t take bombs or guns – just a man, a truck and heart filled with hate.
It didn’t inspire me, however, to hashtag ‘pray for peace’ or ‘pray for Nice’. Just as it didn’t when the Orlando shootings happened, or following the attacks in Baghdad, Paris, Bangladesh, Israel, Istanbul, Jakarta, Lahore, Brussels, Tunis, Bamako, Ankara, Mogadishu, Yemen and Dhaka (comment – not an exhaustive list). It wasn’t that any of these events, or those that are happening every week but not reported in main stream media, didn’t warrant a reaction. It was just that I remain unconvinced of an outcome of solidarity from these hashtags. In my view, these particular hashtags are the Sunday church goers of the internet. Vocal in the aftermath of a crisis, irreverent for the remainder.
A great deal of the purpose and positive power of hashtags has also been eroded in the wake of their use as tools for the emotional engineering favoured by sections of the media and their perpetuation on social media platforms as a means to garner ‘likes’. And, unfortunately, they are too often now used by those who take pride in pointing fingers and calling out a perceived lack of compassion for anything other than Western deaths. At the end of the day, whether we use hashtags or not, we risk getting into trouble for caring (selectively) or in trouble for not caring (enough) – both collectively and as individuals. And in as much they become counterproductive, divisive and harmful.
I can’t help but think that when this happens the real perpetuators, who are a minority and not a majority in terms of global population, have already achieved their end goal – one hashtag at a time.
The truth is that a hashtag or lack thereof is not an indicator of our capacity to care. I have confidence that as human beings, beyond the framework of social and mass media, and yes, even beyond our geographic borders, we have an enormous capacity to care, to love AND to take action. It is there for us to witness on a daily basis in the activities of aid organisations, disaster response teams and first responders. We witness it in the communities who open their doors to refugees and at a professional level in the teachers who stay back to provide extra curricula opportunities for their students. It is present in the scientists who devote their lives to finding cures and in an eye surgeon who chooses to dedicate his life to restoring eyesight. We witness great depth of compassion in the foster parents and carers who step into the void and fill it with love. And we see it at an individual level every time a stranger stops on the street, or the bus, or the train, or the cafe and stands up for another in the face of bullying, racism, sexism – in the face of cowardly attacks with roots in fear and hatred.
I realised this week that in times of such crisis, such loss, it is easy to succumb to our own fears, and to a sense of isolation and hopelessness. It is easy to be convinced by the voice shouting the loudest, when it tells us that if someone is not on the front line of a critical incident that their capacity for caring is somehow diminished. Or to say ugly things about an entire section of our global population based on the actions of a few. But we are all on the front line and it is our collective voice that needs to rise, to be the what is heard above all else. As the French Ambassador to Australia Christophe Lecourtier commented in the aftermath of Nice said “it is not a war of civilisations, it is a war for civilisation”.
So in our search for answers know this, we have all borne witness to far more than these hate-filled attacks. These and the hashtags that follow as a way to try and stare down the enemy are not the sum of our story as a people. Now more than ever it is important that we don’t let social media rob us of our ability to not only call out a chant of support via a hashtag but that we also to take action. Pick up the phone and call your friends around the world, your family. Commit to being the person who stands up to the hate and fear, whether it is disguised as a joke or occurs as a full frontal attack.
Above all, we must continue to pursue deep and meaningful lives, to connect and reach out, to pull others up and ensure there is not just equality but equity.
We must rise – from the grass roots, until we choke out the weeds with our own commitment to nurture love and joy, and uphold the values that unite us.