April 18, 2007

A Moment Of Silence

An actual moment of silence after a tragedy would be far preferable to a culture of people glued to their TV for days trying to understand something tragic that has no good explanation.

An actual moment of silence is a personal moment spent alone with your thoughts, in reflection of some difficult-to-process information and emotion. It would be up to you to decide how to process a tragedy which has happened to someone else somewhere in the world. My moment of silence would possibly go through this sort of a cycle:

  • What if something like this happened to my family or friends?
  • That would be horrible.
  • Those poor people.
  • I’m glad it didn’t happen to my family or friends.
  • I wonder if there’s anything I can do to help.
  • I should appreciate how lucky I am, since these random things happen.
  • I should hug my kids/kiss my wife/spend more time with my friends/etc.

MTMV - My thoughts may vary. And so might yours. But the important thing would be that you’re processing and realizing that you have a life to focus on. Coming out of your reflection with any sort of realization is a good bonus. Hopefully you get some peace as well. Maybe you come out with some ideas that you feel you want to share with others.

In today’s noise-saturated world, it’s harder than ever to get your moment of silence. You have to work to carve it out. We are more prone to get bombarded than to get a chance for reflection. From CNN Headline news to Dancing With the Stars and American Idol, people feel the need not to give you any special insight that came out of their reflection, but rather to make the obligatory noises.

Maggie posted some of her thoughts on the now-predictable cycle of comments related to the tragedy, and the responses of outraged people who think this is not the right time to do anything but parrot the obligatory noises.

I feel this is related to what I was saying last week about the sort of respect you owe your readers. And I feel this respect affects my motivation to post original and sincere thoughts.1 If I’m going to post these thoughts, I have to respect that you as a reader are responsible for what you choose to read, and the thoughts you think. I have to take the attitude that I don’t know what’s best for you; you know what’s best for you. I should remove the presumption (or self-deluded elitist idea) that you need me to pre-chew ideas to make thoughts more palatable to you.

After a tragedy, there is an idea that floats around that suddenly the only way to respect you is for me to not be honest. If I am for arming teachers, this is not the time for me to say it. If I am for stricter gun laws, this is not the time to say it. Instead, I should parrot the obligatory noises, as if the only possible sincere statement I could make would be the same base-level of human sympathy with the victims. But if you and I are only loosely connected to the tragedy, you don’t need my sympathy. If I were speaking directly to the victims, I would want to say something more personal.

Do people feel that they’re being manipulated if you give them your sincere thoughts? You might have an agenda. But an agenda can be sincere. You can sincerely be driven by the belief that the world needs to change.2 Am I to believe that my sincere thoughts are poorly timed just because other people might conclude that my agenda is not sincere? I actually don’t get it.

If I am trying to manipulate you with my sincere thoughts, I should do it honestly with a good argument. Argument is manipulation. If the timing is a problem for you, that’s your responsibility, not a problem with my sincerity.

If, on the other hand, I’m a phony, then the timing doesn’t matter. I’m probably a phony all the time. Tragedy somewhere in the world doesn’t suddenly make me a phony. Clearly, sincerity is a separate issue.

I think it’s a big mistake, and disrespectful, to apply an artificial, arbitrary and external time judgment on opinions. And it’s a mistake to assume that you’re not being manipulated just because someone is telling you they understand how horrible the tragedy is. Or because somebody waited a while before they used your feelings. You should make those judgments independently.

There’s never a bad time from promoting sincere ideas, and never a good time for cynically using people. If timing leads people to confuse one or the other, then they need to learn there is a weakness in their thinking. Maybe a moment of silence could help.

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1 Sometimes… heck, often I post humor and sarcasm. But even sarcasm (which is by definition insincere) can come from a place of sincerity. Honest!

2 Leaders have greater responsibilities than Joe Citizen. This responsibility is related to their job which includes reassuring people when fear threatens to grow to a destructive level, or to motivate people when despair threatens to immobilize people. Joe Citizen is participating by feeding the marketplace of ideas with unique points of view.

Posted by James at April 18, 2007 7:49 AM
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We were just instructed to observe a moment of silence here at work. Kind of annoying since I wasn't planning on making any noise anyway.

Posted by: Julie at April 20, 2007 12:01 PM

12 pm state-mandated moment of silence, with bells tolling, is what I heard on the radio today.

It annoyed me a bit. Now can we have a moment of silence for the 80 people who died by handgun wounds on Tuesday, and now those who died on Wednesday, and now those who died on Thursday?

Can we have a moment of silence for the children who died of exposure / starvation / preventable disease today?

Can we have a moment of silence for the children who live in fear of abuse, who don't have enough food, or don't have a place to live?

Can we have a moment of silence for the people who died in automobile accidents yesterday? The victims of drunk drivers?

Can we have a moment of silence for the citizens of Iraq who were victims of terror attacks this week?

Posted by: Maggie at April 20, 2007 12:17 PM

You can use your moment of silence however you wish!

But I do get your point.

I expect this is more about us processing the emotions people are feeling. The question about why they're feeling which feelings is an interesting one, too.

Posted by: James at April 20, 2007 2:14 PM

The silence about those other regular tragedies is deafening but it seems that we crave and are bombarded by so much bad news that the population can only focus on the most recent tragedy (that affects white Americans here at home). It's a shame, really, but we may no longer be able to spare compassion and brain cells for news that isn't sensational. The unfortunate daily victims of drunk drivers need better publicists.

Posted by: Mike at April 20, 2007 2:46 PM

You can only reflect and process so much during 60 state-mandated seconds. I've had deeper contemplations while stopped at a red light. :(

Posted by: Julie at April 20, 2007 2:56 PM

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