I know quite a few people who’ve taken a break from social media and the news recently. It’s overwhelming, they say, and being overwhelmed isn’t helping anyone, it’s just putting a heavier load on everyone’s mental health. Part of me doesn’t blame these people for wanting to bury their heads in the sand and ignore what’s going on around them.
We are living in a time that’s filled with disturbing headlines, where facts are ignored or distorted, where professional journalists are falsely accused of lying, where the marginalized feel fear in places they once thought were safe, and where innocent civilians are being hurt or killed in conflicts they want no part of. Social media only serves to shove it in people’s faces in a way that didn’t happen before Facebook and Twitter became “places” where we spend a lot of time.
It is incredibly important for those of us who are in more fortunate circumstances to bear witness to the atrocities happening, if we cannot be there to help. If we check out and ignore these acts, we risk becoming a society of navel-gazing people who only respond to those who are directly, physically in front of us. Or is that what we are already?
As a mother, this possibility terrifies me. It’s our job as parents to teach our children about empathy and compassion, but frequently, I wonder whether we’ve been missing an important next step in educating our kids. Yes, the first people we should have empathy and compassion for are those in our circle. But if we want to raise responsible global citizens (and everyone is a global citizen, at this point), we must instill in our children an awareness of those who exist outside of our circle. We owe it to the children of the world to light a fire in our own kids, to show them the reasons they need to look up from their devices, take in the state of the world and decide to do something to change it.
It’s not good enough to be a nice person, especially in times like these. Nice people click on the sad emoticon when they see a photo of a hate crime posted by one of their friends on Facebook. Engaged people — those who see injustice and feel compelled to act — will see that photo posted on Facebook and make an effort to change things. I have friends in both camps, but I know I want my children to be in the latter.
I see friends and acquaintances who live in the margins of the reality President Trump now represents, and I understand their fear. I’m lucky to live a life of relative privilege, but my children may grow up to be a part of those marginalized communities. This may be the case for any parent in America, so shouldn’t that be enough to galvanize us? To make us take steps to protect our children 10 years from now, when they finally come out to us, or two years from now, when they tell us they don’t feel like a boy or a girl after all?
Yes, for most parents, our natural instinct is to want to protect our babies from the horrors of the world. I think we’ve seen, though, that the potential for those horrors to become real might only be increasing. Teaching tolerance and empathy is an obvious first step, but learning to become real allies to those in need right now and, in turn, starting to teach our children about actions they can take, is what can help turn the tide on these troubled times.
Bearing witness to all the horrors that people are facing in the world — even if it makes me sad, anxious and uncomfortable — is part of that journey for me. I can use those feelings as the impetus to do something. My discomfort pales in comparison to what those in crisis are experiencing. But my anger at the injustices taking place can motivate me to take some form of action, no matter how small.
Those tiny actions, because they do indeed feel tiny right now, add up. I hope that they make some difference eventually, both in the lives of the people who need help, and the lives of the people who will one day step up to help them — our children.
Glynis Ratcliffe is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter @operagirl.
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