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Finding "I" in the midst of tragedy(29 posts)

Finding "I" in the midst of tragedyjtolleson
Feb 3, 2003 3:55 PM
Have you ever noticed how when a major tragedy strikes, whether it is Columbine, 9-11, or the Columbia, a large number of people seem to want to emphasize a personal connection to it?

Some folks don't seem to just want to talk about the awfulness of it all, but have a need to make it someone about them, or to describe for others how they are "almost" a part of it. Gaining sympathy and attention by proxy, or just looking for connection? I don't know.

I can't think of any good examples at the moment, but even on discussion boards I see folks wanting to bring national tragedy to their own door step. "My cousin went to high school with ___'s brother" and "one of the astronaut's is from [my state] and we are especially affected," and "I just stood in that exact spot 11 months earlier," etc.

I guess I should be thankful that I don't have an "I" connection to any of our nation's recent great tragedies, but I'm always struck at the lengths some folks seem to go to find one.

And why?
don't think it's ill motivatedDougSloan
Feb 3, 2003 4:17 PM
You see it everywhere. I suppose it's something to talk about, particularly when things are uncomfortable.

After the media gets through 10 minute of real fact reporting, they start interviewing the decendents' kindergarten teachers, looking for some sort of interest story. I don't get it, either, but no big deal, either.

Maybe shared experiences are more important to us?

I agreejtolleson
Feb 3, 2003 5:56 PM
that there is no ill motive, and not even a desire for 15 minutes of fame.

I wasn't thinking so much of the press coverage... the idea was actually triggered by discussions both online and in person about each of the tragedies I listed (and surely more).

I just don't get what motivates it. Part of me wants to say "why does it have to be about you?" But that probably isn't fair, and of course I don't say it.
Annoys the heck out of me.czardonic
Feb 3, 2003 5:18 PM
I didn't notice it so much after Columbine, but it seemed to take off after 9/11. Suddenly it was all "we", "I" and "my". 9/11 was horrible and had its impact on anyone who saw it, but I can only assume that "my trauma" was negligible compared to that of those who died or those who will never see loved ones again.

Frankly, I think personalizing other people's tragedy is tasteless. I takes attention away from those who actually suffered. Doesn't anyone count their blessings anymore?
Surpsingly, I agree.sn69
Feb 3, 2003 6:55 PM
Don't get me wrong...but I kind of expected a rant about the evils of space exploration.

Nonetheless I agree with you completely. I think the corporate media entity only feeds the need of those who try to share in the pain beyond that which we all should feel whenever we see people die too young.

In any case, this is making me think long and hard about manned space exploration right now. Oddly, my wife--a self-described SoCal liberal--is taking the pro-NASA stance. She's a research scientist and listed all of the contributions that space exploration and it's spin-off industries have provided.

Now for the next inevitable phase--blame fixation.....

I think I'll forgo television for a while.
Good topic -- Space exploration -- Yea or nay?OldEdScott
Feb 4, 2003 5:42 AM
As you indicate, most of us would probably expect liberals to oppose it, conservatives to approve. WOnder if that's true or not? Here's my vote:

One far-left liberal: Big thumbs up on space.
Big yea from another liberal.czardonic
Feb 4, 2003 10:32 AM
Other than militarizing near space, I can't imagine why it would be assumed that conservatives would be pro-NASA. Space travel is fraught with big governemt spending, international cooperation and a vast unknown -- things that tend to raise the hair on the neck of the typical conservative.
DittoCaptain Morgan
Feb 4, 2003 10:43 AM
Space travel is not a goal; it is a means to satisfy some goal. It seems as though the program has not defined what this is.
Big yea from another liberal.Alpedhuez55
Feb 4, 2003 11:15 AM
I will give it a fiscal conservative yea. I think we get a lot from it in terms of scientific develoment that comes with the space program. I do not think NASA is wasteful in their spending by any means. THey get by on quite a small budget. If all agencies operated as effeciently as NASA I am sure we would get a lot more out of our tax dollars.

THough from the sounds of things, they could use a computer upgrade. THey keep talking about how dated the computers that run the shuttle are. THey made it too and from the moon with a lot less though. There are a lot of technologies that find their way to our every day life too. The militay aspects of the space program are important as well.

Since when are conservatives against International Cooperation Czar? What about NAFTA and the international coalition Bush is building against Iraq?

Mike Y.
it's sort of the government's cycling activityDougSloan
Feb 4, 2003 11:22 AM
NASA is to the Feds (and the country) as cycling sort of is to me. It's a big expenditure, not directly justifiable, but I just get a whole lot of pleasure from it. It defines who I am in some ways. It's an outlet for stress, etc.

Thumbs up.

Well said. (nm)czardonic
Feb 4, 2003 11:44 AM
What about it?czardonic
Feb 4, 2003 11:50 AM
Bush had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the UN, and to this day makes sure to remind everyone that we don't need anyone's help to take care of Iraq.

Globalization and Internationalism are, I think, different matters.
U.N. is worthlessCaptain Morgan
Feb 4, 2003 2:16 PM
As you may recall, the U.N. put up resistance when the Gulf War plans were being drafted in 1991. The rhetoric today is the same as in 1991, except you can change the words "Give sanctions an opportunity" to "Give inspections an opportunity." I agree with Bush that the U.N. should not dictate U.S. foreign policy. That's why we elect our own citizens to develop and maintain our foreign policy. I would prefer not to have some anti-Semitic Frenchman wield executive power over my country.
Space exploration -- YeaTig
Feb 4, 2003 3:08 PM
For those who still haven't figured out the many benefits they've received from the space program, browse through a few of the recent spin-offs
There are so many that aren't listed from the past that we all take for granted.

I know NASA isn't the most efficient when it comes to spending (what government agency is?), but the vision is good and the benefits are real.
Two pointsCaptain Morgan
Feb 4, 2003 10:38 AM
Perhaps I annoy the heck out of you as well czar, but I have two points about your last post:

1. You stated that "It takes attention away from those who actually suffered." Perhaps that is not such a bad thing. When people suffer the loss of a loved one, such as when we lost our child a few years back, the last thing we wanted or needed was attention.

2. Interesting use of the word "blessings" for a self-proclaimed atheist. I am proud of you.
Two pointsczardonic
Feb 4, 2003 11:02 AM
1. That's a good point, but it doesn't always seem to work that way. In the case of the Columbia it has put even more focus on the families and friends by turning their grief into a media circus and cheapened their suffering by turning it into a "national tragedy" about which every cafeteria employee who ever served up lunch to one of the astronauts is now emminently qualified to empathize.

I don't think I'd want the memorial of a loved one overshadowed by grandstanding bureaucrats and emotional carpetbaggers. Nor would I want a bunch of people who never met my loved one blubbering on about how they lost a "family member".

I do think it is appropriate to express condolences and celebrate the acheivements of those who died. If, in their grief, friends and family find comfort in the expressions of empathy and solidarity (however over-the-top), then I guess it isn't all bad.

2. It's a figure of speech for Christ's sake.
Two pointsAlpedhuez55
Feb 4, 2003 11:46 AM
I just want to mention one thing about NASA. There is a kinship at that agency as well as many of the private contractors who work for them. THey take great pride in their acheivements and great sorrow in their failures. It is a lot like an extended family to a certain point and just about everyone from the astronauts down to the cleaning staff who works at the agency will feel that loss and Kinship.

I do not think people at NASA are grandstanding. They are trying to be cautiously open about releasing information to the public. I think some of the local sheriffs & politicians near the crash site are grandstanding though. THat is in the nature of most elected officials.

Mike Y.

PS Czar, LOL on the "for Christ's sake"
it's a current events munchausen syndrome [nm]Leroy
Feb 3, 2003 6:14 PM
That phrase EXACTLY came to mind for me (nm)jtolleson
Feb 3, 2003 8:28 PM
re: Finding I in the midst of tragedyAlpedhuez55
Feb 3, 2003 7:23 PM
I have mentioned the fact I know people who died in 9/11. I was closest to a widow who lost her husband of 4 months. I also knew her husband but not as closely. The memorial service was one of the saddest days I have experienced.

Sure sometimes people want to be the center of attention. Some people overreact to these types of events. How many people not directly effected by 9/11 went into therapy? What about the millions of people who were so saddened by Princess Diana's or JFK Jr.'s deaths? Did they not have a right to cry because they did not know them personally? Should we belittle what they feel? People are different and handle these tragic events in many ways. I do not think we should tell them how they should feel.

Mike Y.
re: Finding I in the midst of tragedysn69
Feb 3, 2003 7:34 PM

I'm not against empathy by any means. FWIW, my wife was close friends with a Naval Flight Officer who died on one of the two WTC airplanes.

Still, it almost seems as if the media feeds off of this. Sex, violence, death, suffering, etc sell copy, whether it's print or broadcast. They--the media--earn profit by selling their product, and I tend to think they package their marketting to appeal to the raw emotions of people at times like this.

You misunderstood my postjtolleson
Feb 3, 2003 8:32 PM
I affirm grief and don't feel like people need to find an explanation for why they grieve.

For you analogies, for example, I wept when Diana died yet I am oblivious to the British royalty scene. It was just purely sad. I don't think folks need to find a reason for it to be about "them" in order to grieve. Not telling anyone how to feel; I'm more curious about why they EXPLAIN themselves the way they do.

And my post was not to make light of those truly personally suffering loss. It was directed to the odd kinds of "hangers on" stories that I see crop up around such events.

You misunderstood my postAlpedhuez55
Feb 4, 2003 5:43 AM
People greive in different ways. We have all known people who have taken a tragic event like this and seem to take it too hard. Some people look to connect to the event to help explain what they are feeling during any event like this. I do not think there is anything evil or mean spirited in that. If being a "Hanger on" helps them then so be it.

As for the media, I think they are horrible in these kinds of events. Especially all the 24 hour channels. Do we really need to see every press conference by a Texas Sherrif or Mayor covered live on Fox, CNN & MSNBC? I guess somebody is watching that stuff since they get a jump in ratings. I just think it gets overdone.

Mike Y.
The saddest thing about...Matno
Feb 6, 2003 9:56 AM
Princess Diana's death was the fact that it obliterated media coverage of the death of someone who actually was a great person: Mother Theresa. They died the same week, but Mother Theresa, who was arguably the most prominent do-gooder of the century, was relegated to small blurbs on the second page, while Diana, who was hardly an example of how people should live their lives, was on the covers of newspapers and magazines for months on end. It's a sad commentary on how shallow our society is.
I've wondered the same thing. I can't say I'm immune, either,bill
Feb 4, 2003 7:36 AM
and I don't even know how I should feel about that.
I think that part of it is that tragedy, no matter how sad and gruesome, is exciting, particularly if you stand at SOME distance from it. It removes us from the day to day, doesn't it? Being able to cite your connection links you to the excitement. Pretty cynical, I guess, but I think that it's real. Another thought is that everything happens, when you think about it, between our ears, anyway. Our own minds are the mechanism through which we experience everything, so, in a sense, it is always about ourselves. The impulse to link ourselves to tragedy may be a manifestation of that. A third thought is that linking to the tragedy is a paradoxical way of distancing yourself from it. "Came that close" is another way of emphasizing that it didn't happen to you.
I agree that it's an interesting and disturbing but still a common experience.
media perspectivetarwheel
Feb 4, 2003 10:01 AM
Having worked as a reporter/editor for 15 years and another 5 years in public affairs, I don't think there is anything sinister or self-centered going on in press coverage of such events. One of the first rules of journalism is to try to find a way to make readers "connect" with the events reported on. One way to do that is to try and find, and then interview, ordinary people who have some sort of connection to the events. It helps make the issues more compelling and real to the readers.

In most cases, the people being interviewed didn't seek out reporters in an effort to shine the light on themselves. Usually, it's the other way around -- reporters spending a lot of time, beating the bushes looking for people with some sort of connection to the events. Of course, there are always a few attention seekers who try to grab the limelight whenever a big event occurs, but most experienced journalists can sniff those folks very quickly (usually because they've called or emailed about previous events). One of the hardest jobs as a journalist is contacting family members after a tragic event. There is a real skill to this, and it's not just ambulance chasing. Some people truly want to talk about their lost loved ones -- it's a way to deal with the tragedy, talk about their accomplishments and assets, make something positive out of the bad. Others clearly don't want to talk, and a good reporter will recognize this and politely leave them alone.
"I" don't have any choiceTig
Feb 4, 2003 3:08 PM
I am surrounded by NASA, NASA employees, have worked in NASA, including Mission Control for over 12 years, know several astronauts, my daughter goes to school with several of the lost astronaut's children... So, there isn't any choice in the matter. This affects me at many levels. I don't have to reach for a common association. However, all I can think of is the children and families of those who were lost. Nothing can replace their loved ones, and time heals only a small part of the wounds.

Yes, we've seen plenty of 15 minutes of fame and so-called "Barron Von Munchausen syndrome". However, don't lump everyone into that group. Many people have been directly affected.

Tragic events bring out the best and worst of people. Everyone decides which path they'd like to travel. Everyone grieves differently.
Who's lumping?jtolleson
Feb 5, 2003 7:29 AM
Sounds like my thinking aloud touched a nerve, but I think if you read my posts again, the resentment is unnecessary.
No resentment was applied, just a different view from the front row. :-) -nmTig
Feb 6, 2003 6:38 AM