On Monday morning, I did my usual Twitter scroll to catch up on current events. My body winced as one particular headline caught my eye: another deadly mass shooting, this time in Las Vegas.
I was saddened, but not surprised. Mass shootings are as much a part of the American experience as Ford trucks, state fairs, and college football. But, this one was different. Deadliest in U.S. history. Our President even sounded Presidential in his response.
Then, like that popular internet meme, I braced myself. Thoughts and prayers were coming. A few foul words flew out of my mouth and into the air. These thinkers and prayers were the problem, not the solution.
Why, you ask?
It’s Hashtag Slacktivism.
Virtue signaling on social media has replaced actual virtue in the form of action. #PrayforVegas, we wrote. But our posts didn’t contain locations where people could give blood, names of organizations devoted to changing gun laws, or phone numbers that people could call to reach missing loved ones. We came, we saw, we hashtagged. Then we moved on with our lives.
If I Didn’t Post It, It Didn’t Happen.
Our humanity has been reduced to a punchy slogan and a slick font. We do it for the ‘Gram. We dance like everyone’s watching on Snapchat. And we curate our Insta-lives to display the right range of emotion for our followers, including approved displays of sadness and grief. All at the cost of authenticity, vulnerability, and real connection.
It Chills Discussion Of The Issue.
The phrase “thoughts and prayers” is a sanitized, gaffe-proof catch-all. It’s what politicians say when they don’t want to offend anyone. Heck, it’s even its own internet meme. We don’t need politicians and their stock responses. We need thoughtful discourse on both sides of the issue, especially from our lawmakers.
What If The Shooter Had A Different Last Name And Skin Color? Would the discourse, including the President’s response, be different? I’ll just leave this one here and tiptoe away from it.
Unfortunately, I’m no stranger to being on the receiving end of thoughts and prayers.
I live on Marco Island, a quaint barrier isle about half an hour south of Naples, Florida. Marco Island is what Palm Beach might be without the loud money and polo. Its beaches are long and broad; you have to walk on sand for up to a quarter of a mile to reach the water’s edge. Its sunsets splash all manner of colors across the sky.
On September 8, Hurricane Irma made a westward wobble that put Marco in its crosshairs. A country transfixed by Harvey and its aftermath turned its eye to my corner of the world. My phone soon came alive with well-wishes from all manner of folk — old Tinder hookups, former bosses, ex-roommates. All knew that I was spending 2017 on Marco Island with family.
Their messages followed a standard pattern: My thoughts are with you. You’re in my heart. Praying for the safety of your family. Some who had endured hurricanes gave advice like put important documents in the dishwasher.
I had evacuated just in time. My parents had no such luxury and stayed behind. That Saturday, I mentally prepared for what could be the worst day of my life. As Irma bore down on my home, I realized that all those thoughts and prayers were making me feel pretty damn good. It was pure ego. I made someone’s daily thought list, right between the MLB Wild Card race and subway delays.
Besides, what more could they say? None of my friends could Care Bear Stare that hurricane away. Yet I went into Hurricane Day knowing that I had the moral support of my entire network to get me through, regardless of what happened. I didn’t see them as lazy hashtag activists. Their kind words let me know that they gave a crap about me.
Remembering this, I tempered my anger at the #PrayForVegas crowd. Begrudgingly, I’ll even admit they have a point: when we have nothing else to give, it’s our well-wishes and kindness that help others through the most awful of times. If we’re looking for something to unite us, perhaps that’s a good place to start.