Erin Chawla: The Kiducation Learning Curve


Gawking at Heartbreak: How We View Tragedy on Social Media

Is it our place to share someone else's tragedy?

A horrific thing has happened. A family I know has suffered a gut-wrenching tragedy that has reset the course of their lives. It’s one of those stories that stops you in your tracks, shakes you to the core and takes your breath away for a moment.
And, of course, within 24 hours of this story being shared with those closest to the family, the pictures started splashing across Facebook. A well-meaning friend set up a memorial fund, one that the family did not ask for. Now it is being tweeted, shared, and commented on. Donations are pouring in. Condolences are coming from strangers in far flung corners of the world. 
Parenting groups have picked up the story and everyone is reflecting on how the loss impacts them. And, inevitably, with the heartfelt expressions of sadness comes questions and criticism. What happened? Could it have been prevented? People are wanting to explore the details and offer suggestions and critiques.
How is this helping anyone? 
I think there are some things that are just not our loss to share and comment on. Seeing the pictures, donations, and comments fly around the internet made me feel sick. It seemed to somehow cheapen and exploit this devastating calamity.
Social media seems to have relegated people’s very real, very personal tragedies to the latest cause of the day. What will the world be chatting about this week - arguing if you see the dress as white or blue, or gawking at a family’s tragedy?
I get it. Any parent can imagine the horrifying loss of a child, or a mother, or a spouse. We feel we can relate to these stories and the harrowing thought comes: it could have been us. I am not suggesting the messages building in the comment box don’t come from the heart. But I think sometimes we need to remember, this is not our tragedy. We are not the ones who need support. 
I get it. When terrible things happen, we want to feel we are doing something, anything, to help. We want to believe that opening our wallets, or writing a heartfelt sentiment will somehow ease the pain. Devastating stories make us feel the world out of control and we try to make some sense of a senseless loss. 
I’m certainly not against charity. There is a time and a place for giving and giving can have a far-reaching impact in the lives of many. I believe in the impact of the global village and applaud supporting each other in positive ways.
But there is also a time and a place for privacy. Grief is a long difficult process. Grieving people need space to figure out how to get off the floor and put one foot in front of the other again. They need the enveloping love of family and friends - but perhaps the endless comments of acquaintances and strangers are do more harm than good . And just maybe, they don’t need the voyeuristic eyes of the social media world watching them try to piece their lives back together in the face of unimaginable loss.
Think before you share. Share joy, share triumph, share advice. Maybe hold back on sharing someone else’s grief.  Remember these stories are about real people and real heartbreak. Don’t let this interconnected, share-happy virtual world of ours turn support into gossip and turn misery into a spectacle.