By Shannyn Moore for the Anchorage Daily News
Media saturation and outrage fatigue. That’s the kind of week it’s been.
There were so many stories — from all over the country and world in such terrible detail. There seemed nothing to do but watch as horror after horror unfolded. When was the last time I heard “Breaking: Good News?”
As summer draws near, we watched the U.S. Senate — including both of our senators — fail the victims of past and future gun massacres. On Patriot’s Day blood spilled on the streets of Boston, limbs lost, lives lost. We saw a deadly explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, the victims literally vaporized under a mushroom cloud.
An Elvis impersonator is accused of sending poison to the president and a congressman — and it didn’t even make the front page.
We learned that pressure cookers aren’t just for canning salmon. The manhunt for heartless terrorists unfolded relentlessly, bit by bit, in our living rooms. It’s no wonder so many of the ads during the 24-hour cable news broadcasts are for anti-depressants, anti-depressant boosters, sleep aids and blood pressure medications. Maybe a news week like this can actually make you sick. I like to believe our brains are wired to feel empathy for our fellow humans in peril and pain and to help if we can. I dare say it’s our better nature.
So let’s remember the volunteer firefighters in Texas, well aware of the danger posed by a burning fertilizer plant, who stayed to help evacuate a home for the elderly.
Is that the opposite of terrorism? Selfless humanity? We see a lot less of that in the news. I wouldn’t mind a few more minutes of real heroes on TV rather than seemingly endless hours of speculation by people who went to high school with fanatical zealots whose grandest ambition was to kill children with bombs.
Growing up in Homer, I felt like there were a lot of horrible things that happened. I remember what houses burned down, whose parents got divorced, car wrecks, boats sinkings and grievous illnesses. Many of these surfaced as prayer requests during church services.
Pop Moore had a saying about most of these situations. “It’s not a problem — it’s just a situation that we have to find a solution for.”
When a house burned down, we went through our toys, books and clothes and packed a few boxes. Mom and Pop did the same.
We made casseroles and delivered them to grieving families. We showed up at funerals.
We went to spaghetti feeds and pie auctions for people who needed money for medical treatments. Once Pop bought a pie for $100 and donated it back — it sold again and he and the other bidder split the pie.
In those days, it seemed that bad news had a process — there were things to be done on a scale that people could handle. There seemed to be a balance.
I’m not sure we humans are built to consume the abundance of grief and pain, tears and fears brought to us from near and far by a vast media machine. But what can we do about it?
Without the ability to respond with individual action we become simple rubber-neckers at the misfortunes of others. It shouldn’t be enough just to be relieved that whatever is happening isn’t happening in our town.
I’m not proposing we unplug the giant media machine. I would never urge people to bury their heads and assume it’s all being taken care of. Often, we have only two meaningful ways to react: We can give money, or we can take our responsibilities as citizens a little more seriously — by voting and holding our leaders accountable — so may we prevent a tragedy. We can’t undo a killing explosion in Texas but we can push the people we elect to make sure we have smart zoning laws and money for safety inspections. That requires a focus and discipline that’s not as easy or as satisfying as baking a pie.
Maybe it’s a simple as trying to balance the bad we know is out there with the good we can do right now. Like picking up the trash that someone else tossed, volunteering at the soup kitchen or sorting extra clothes into boxes for the needy. Maybe many small acts of GOOD, efforts that don’t really take much effort, are better for us than anti-depressants, sleep aids and blood pressure meds.
The night of the Boston bombing, New York City lit a message for Boston. It was a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.”
Dr. King went on to say, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”