THE NORMALIZATION OF TRAGEDY
By Vincent Lyn
“Just in case you didn’t know explosions like what recently happened in Beirut are not normal. Famine in Yemen is not normal. Occupation in Palestine is not normal. The Refugee crisis in Syria, South Sudan, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Somalia and Venezuela is not normal. We’re all human. We’re not New York City, Paris or London because we’re Beirut, Sanaa, Jerusalem, and Damascus. Much of the world needs to stop normalizing tragedy in the Middle East along with rest of the world.” — Ayah Al-Zubi
The recent catastrophic explosion that happened in Beirut should be a wake up to everyone at how quickly we normalize tragic events. Immediately we hear of any tragic event people start texting in-group messages, citing theories, spreading disinformation, rumors, and conspiracies. Many shrug off comments and figure they’ll find out what happens in a day or so or not. It is truly terrifying that our present generation has normalized public tragedy so that when it presents itself, we are not fazed. We have grown up in a world that bombings, shootings and mass death is the norm so much so that the normalcy with which we react to tragedies is extremely unsettling.
I am very nervous for the future of our world. We as a supposedly advanced society need to stop dismissing news updates and alerts as “just another incident” — really think about the people at risk and the life-altering damage that can be done. A threat is a threat — whether it is carried out or not makes no difference. There is no time in our present history than right now with the senseless deaths that have been caused by COVID-19. I can’t stop thinking about how we simply get used to all the dying. We keep losing thousands every single day. People get used to it. We get less vigilant as it very slowly spreads. As the beginning of 2021 comes we tick past 300,000 dead, most people are no longer concerned. How plausible it seems whether 1,000 or 2,000 Americans were reported to have died from the virus yesterday and yet their collective passing was hardly mourned. After all, how to distinguish those souls from the 1,000 or 2,000 who perished the day before or who died the day after? Such loss of life is hard to comprehend when it’s not happening in front of your own two eyes. Add to it that humans are adaptable creatures, no matter how nightmarish the scenario, and it seems understandable that our outrage would dull over time. Unsure how — or perhaps unable — to process tragedy at scale — we get used to it. Normalizing this pandemic is the first issue we face in solving it.
The same goes for threatening to inflict violence on a group of innocent people. Which happens way too often all over the world. We cannot dismiss that. We cannot continue to write it off. Violence, no matter how often it occurs, is not normal. Is tragedy becoming the new norm? I don’t know. It certainly seems to be trending that way. But that’s not what worries me. There have been many tragedies in the past, though this year 2020 is certainly turning out to be one of the worst I’ve ever known, but you can be sure there will be yet more tragedies to come. What frightens me is apathy. What scares me is cynicism. It has been a dark year so far, but the normalization of tragedy is not nearly as dangerous as the normalization of jaded indifference, calloused inactivity, and negligent insensitivity. As the proverb goes, it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. Instead of the multitude of these tragedies jading us, perhaps we can position ourselves such that they shake us and wake us. The will to act is a gift and a duty, and if some cannot act because that gift has been torn away from them by violence and oppression, why can’t we act on their behalf?
With what happened in Beirut aside from the people who are having to sift through the rubble searching for their loved ones 48 hours later the rest of the world is already looking for the next news feed. The world is not seized by fear, nor has the population been traumatized. Are we getting so used to such miserable news that we treat it as the norm? Shall we be alarmed by such normalizations of such tragedy? The public has fostered a mindset that there are no ways we can prevent these tragic events. There is some evidence supporting this perception. Indeed, deep-rooted problems like racial and religious tensions have embedded the seed of hatred and misunderstanding. It takes generations of education to change people’s mindsets to improve the situation. Also, we must acknowledge that there are powerful lobbying organizations exerting great resistance to prevent potentially effective methods from being implemented. It is clear that the normalization of tragedy is detrimental for society’s well being.
Tragic events do not stop when people ignore their acts. It is okay to move on from tragedies, but it not okay to move on without any reflection or action to prevent it from happening again. Posting a sad face emoji on Facebook is definitely inadequate. We face a long road in enacting the change that is so desperately needed to help the innocent people who have lost their lives from random acts of violence, but the first and most important step we must take is to feel it.
CEO/Founder at We Can Save Children
Director of Creative Development at African Views Organization
Economic & Social Council at United Nations
Middle East Correspondent at Wall Street News Agency
Rescue & Recovery Specialist at International Confederation of Police & Security Experts