Wednesday Challenge: Grieve for Others.

This post is intended for those of us who are shocked and grieved by the Virginia Tech killings but who do not know anyone at the school. I suspect that most of us didn’t know any of the victims (and I extend my heartfelt condolences if you did lose a friend or family member in the shootings) but we still feel the pain of lives cut short–especially young lives, so full of promise and potential. There is also a sense that their deaths were preventable, which deepens the pain.

If you feel anguish for the women and men who were gunned down at Virginia Tech this week, consider this: in terms of scale, our national tragedy pales in comparison to Iraq’s daily death toll. Senseless mass death events abound in our world: genocide in Darfur, child soldiers gunning each other down in the Congo, constant gang and drug-related killings globally as well as on our own back streets. Ten thousand Virginia Techs happen on this planet every day.

This confuses me. I don’t mean to sound callous, but why should deaths at a school in Virginia affect us more deeply than a similar number killed by a suicide bomb in Iraq? Are not both equally tragic? I assure you that parents in the Middle East feel no less devastated when a child dies than American ones. And it seems that we should feel more anguish over the deaths in Iraq since we have some collective responsibility for the current situation there. I don’t mean to politicize this discussion too much, but Iraq is a convenient example. There are plenty of others.

So here’s the exercise: if you were affected more by the deaths of 33 in Blacksburg than by the 127 or more who were killed in bombings in Baghdad this morning, examine why. Then try to picture the details our news sources don’t supply–the profiles of the victims, the anguish of parents who lost children, children who lost parents, and of those who survived but whose lives will be transformed by the loss of limbs or hearing or sight and by the addition of chronic pain. Then grieve for them.


  1. When not directly impacted by a tragedy, we feel grief when it is pushed front and center on the news.

    This is a thought that runs through my mind every time a specific person or event is given focus on the news.

    Senseless murder occurs every day, just generally not all committed by the same person.

    I struggle with not wanting to compare peoples’ losses or deem one tragedy less heinous than another. I don’t want to judge those (including myself) who are ignorant of the violence that occurs within miles or blocks of our own homes as well as all around the world.

    I’ve tried to watch very little of the news on this latest big event. This is difficult since it is being featured on so many tv shows, websites, radio, and papers. Inevitably the blame game ensues proclaiming more laws and security are the keys to prevention.

    In the coming weeks we’ll end up hearing more about the troubled student’s history and how he was a loner and weird and creepy, etc. I’m sure we all know at least 1 or 2 people who we would not be surprised to see on the local news one day for doing something inhumane. But what can we do? What can we do before they reach that point and without placing ourselves in danger? What was troubling this student was likely in the works for years. When the first signs of strange behavior in people who eventually commit these types of acts aren’t addressed – or even if they are as it appears some steps were taken with this student – what can society do? Better mental health resources and procedures surely fit in there somewhere.

    Every time the give the body count on the news, they don’t include the student who did perpetrated this act. While his actions are inexcusable, he was a victim as well and there is a family out there grieving not only for their loss but the horror of what has happened.

  2. nee got to it before I did: the reason we care less about the 127 than the 33 is because we hear less. Maybe we’d be more emotionally invested in the war in Iraq if it was reported on more/better. I listened to a half-hour uninterrupted broadcast of the press conference with the president of VT on Monday. Today, I turn on my news at 5 and hear an interview with a random student-affected-by-the-shootings (followed by an interview with a Columbine student). The most I heard about the 127 was a 5 minute segment mentioning the number in passing and focusing generally on the war at large and the political furor over it.

    Last night I cried myself to sleep. I don’t really know why. It may have been the 33, it may have been the 127, it may have been hormones, it may have been the book I was reading. But something racked my body with sobs and kept me awake. That was more reaction than I had for Sept. 11 until I saw Fahrenheit 9/11, which, although I don’t think I could ever watch it again, does a very good job of showing the actual people hurt by the war in Iraq.

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