How to Handle Disturbing News

On December 15, I proclaimed to the interwebs that I was going offline until the New Year. I was very much looking forward to some down time, baking cookies, wearing ugly sweaters and drinking too much egg nog.

Within minutes of logging out of my social media accounts, I heard news on the radio about the shootings in Connecticut. This was just a few weeks after the massacre of a nanny taking the lives of two innocent children in Manhattan, and we all wondered how the hell this happened. Many politicians and public figures released statements in response to the Newtown killings, many of them starting with, “As a parent, I am horrified…” 

Really, you don’t need children of your own to feel the horror of 6 and 7 year olds and their educators being murdered with an assault rifle in their classrooms. You just need to be human, with even a flicker of empathy in your heart.

Later in my tech hiatus, I heard about the gang rape in India of a young woman who ended up dying as a result of the attack. She was a medical student named Jyoti Singh Pandey. The incident evoked a national outcry for women’s safety in India and a need for self-defense training. (we are talking with a few orgs in India to make this happen…) Then we heard about acquaintance rape horrors straight from the mouths of Steubenville High athletes in Ohio.

While they seemingly knew their victim, I believe it was the worst kind of predatory attack, because she probably trusted them. Not the weirdo pouncing from the bushes in the tattered hooded sweatshirt who you are CERTAIN is there to harm you, their attack is equally – if not more so – sinister.

I watched the news each day of my “break”. And I was thinking: REALLY? Now? EVER? Why? Why. Seriously. This is so F*CKED up.

But I was committed to staying offline for the holidays, despite it being torturous to NOT respond to these violent things happening in the world in a timely fashion. I couldn’t DO anything. Which left me no other option than to simply…

BE.

I got quiet a lot. I prayed. I sent light. I held space. I fought the urge to over-saturate myself with heartbreaking details of the tragedies. Then I went about my day. I snuggled my babies. I lived my life. And I showed my support where I could.

Does this seem insensitive? Perhaps. But I propose we all do it more often.

This being vs doing…it was such a foreign concept to me – but also a lesson, a gift. Knowing that major events will happen, some very sad, but your engagement in the mass pain response isn’t necessarily helping anyone. So many years, I spoke to audiences with lines of 50+ people afterwards waiting to tell me their stories. Their horrific, unjust, terrifying stories – I heard them all.

If you are one of those voices, please know I still hear you now.

But let’s be clear about what is possible in the aftermath. Yes, we can educate ourselves and others. Yes, we can rally for political support of our stance on an issue. Yes, we can engage in protests and demand change. Yes, we can take our offenders to court. Yes, we can do our part…and FIGHT BACK – but bad shit will continue to happen.

This is not pessimistic – this is real.

And this reality will not bring these beautiful souls back – however they were lost to us (emotionally or physically). I wonder if we should question our efforts, and doubt our ability to make right something that has gone so horrifically, painfully awry. Because can we really fix this? Fix friends who rape friends? Gang rapes on buses? Murdering school children while they learn their ABC’s?

I believe in prediction and prevention. But I also believe in inspiration and transformation.

In an attempt to restore our own sanity, we need to re-think what helping means. Re-think what healing means. Re-think what support means. Re-think the effectiveness of matching other people’s pain as a way of showing solidarity. Re-think progress, and re-think THINKING at all.

Maybe it’s time to feel. Time to be. Time to get back to being human. To create space for accountability and improvement. Maybe it’s time to return to love. Even when it seems utterly impossible. Even when it sucks. Even when you think it might kill you. Even when you’re sitting in the audience at a murder trial, and the murderer winks at you. (this really happened)

Because that’s when we need it most.

30 thoughts on “How to Handle Disturbing News

  1. Katie

    I’m proud of you Erin. It’s compelling for everyone to want to say something after each act of horrific violence. I think we all feel awful about it but also feel compelled to show that we are a sensitive human by saying something. Perhaps though, for many of us, we still feel disempowered even after saying something. I think it is great that this time you allowed yourself to look inward by snuggling your babies, holding space, and sending light out into the world. Such an inward looking act could be more healing for one’s self and the world. Either way, I’m glad you are giving yourself more permission to be rather than do. I think I can learn something from you. 🙂
    Thanks for the post.
    Katie

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