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Skewed, yes, but your Facebook filter still spells compassion

The world was rocked by the November 13 attacks in Paris. It may prove to be yet another of the markers which will be referenced in history lessons of the future: 127 lives have been lost and more than 200 more physically injured, not counting the collective psychological trauma endured. An unquestionably dark day.

The hyper-accelerated sharing age in which we now live has seen the advanced world engage en masse in mourning or celebrating events through what is published on social media: superimposed rainbows and French flags appear on every second friend’s profile picture, usually accompanied by a # or two.

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Commemoration in Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park. Photo: Dan Garrett.

What has followed this time from the sharing of these hashtags and Facebook profile flags has been a reaction to the effect that we shouldn’t merely pray for Paris, but that we should be praying for the world, for humanity. Bite-sized goals.

It is a world in which, as the author of this viral post very rightly says: “If you’ve been following the journeys of the people leaving their homes around the world right now, perhaps you’ll understand why the words#SyrianRefugeeCrisis are just as devastating as #PrayForParis. It’s time to pray for humanity. It is time to make all places beloved. It’s time to pray for the world.”

A skewed perception of our world and the significance we place on certain atrocities–which are becoming increasingly commonplace–over others, is a problem we absolutely do need to overcome.

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The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has documented the death of 250,124 persons from March 2011 until October of this year. Of these, civilians accounted for 115,627 including 12,517 children.

Boko Haram’s viciousness, if you remember, saw the lives of 2000 Nigerians taken.

Three days ago the U.N. Security Council condemned killings in Burundi and threatened sanctions, urgently calling for the government and opposition to meet amid fears that the African nation is at risk of genocide.

This is without even mentioning the ongoing horror of sexual slavery which claims a new prisoner every 30 seconds, or the 13.2 million people affected by disasters in South America between January and October 2015, among many, many others.

Why do we place the emphasis we do on the Western attacks, such as those  in BostonSydney and now Paris, which  resulted in comparatively less bloodshed? Because we can relate to them.

We cannot, in our consumerist-driven, numbed Western world, connect as easily to that which we have not seen, felt and heard. The crises we absorb continually through media may make us feel distressed, but because most of us have not ourselves lived the terror these fellow women and men experience daily, we can at best share and donate, at worst give an internal nod of the head and keep scrolling.

france paris isis attacks instagram

When we see people at a concert, eating dinner and drinking wine, we place ourselves in these situations and enter another level of sympathy that otherwise we are too distanced to ever truly feel; or at least, for the most part.

Does this mean we should be deterred from rallying together by social networks who plea for solidarity by means of profile alterations? I believe that would be more harmful than helpful; for perhaps in this anaesthetised world of continuous spending and constant connectivity (albeit with fewer genuine relationships), these are tragically the very events which shock us to a place of awareness and empathy. Perhaps amid the calamity, a deaf world is roused.

If we are changing Facebook filters, at least the network is being used as a tool for solidarity rather than a pin-up board for selfies.

If we are praying for Paris, at least we’re praying.

If we are mourning for humanity, giving blood, or opening our homes to those in need, it might be charity which only manifests itself under duress.

Perhaps now we will be able to understand more and care more why people flee their countries, which, as Congo born poet JJ Bola points out, only occurs when the sea is a safer choice than the land:

No one leaves home if the hurt that will come is greater than the hurt that they will leave behind. No one leaves if the ocean will swallow them up. No one leaves home, if there is peace.

Perhaps we will be spurred to place more emphasis on critical thinking, sens critique; “whatever our background and family appurtenances…[we] keep on learning, reading, expos[ing] ourselves to other cultures, history, and literature”, and be willing to take on new points of view as we gain greater insight and understanding.

Perhaps we will feel more strongly than ever before the thread of humanity which weaves through us all–that we are hardwired for–that emotional, physical and spiritual connection. We are inextricably connected to one another by a force greater than ourselves–a force grounded in love and compassion.

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 Because love always trumps hate. And light always expels darkness.

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Skewed, yes, but your Facebook filter still spells compassion