Paris

It’s raining in London – quiet but insistent. There’s a heaviness in the air. It’s as though the rain is pinning everything down, weighing down the garden so it doesn’t get away in the wind. It’s as though we’re pulling everything in tighter this morning – the loved ones, the duvet, the pets, whatever – so that everything important is within our grasp.

Last night’s terror attacks in Paris were an assualt on people’s freedoms and have once again challenged our assumptions about the world we live and the lives we lead. We are reminded of just how much about how lives we take for granted.

I listened to 5 Live’s news special this morning visualising the scene painted by various eyewitnesses who phoned-in their accounts. When similar attacks have been reported over the past fifteen years I’ve always wondered whether I’ve just had an obsession for the mawkish or some kind of macabre fascination. Today however, it feels different.

An act of carnage which has killed nearly 150 people and injured hundreds of others now casts a shadow on the things I thought were important to me. This will, I assume, pass in a few days or weeks. Even so,  thinking today about the things I got excited about yesterday or the plans I have for next weekend is to ignore what happened in Paris. Looking forward to my Saturday night rituals in front of the TV tonight, for example, now seems an irrelevance and disrespectful.

The ‘now’ is what seems important and respectful. But what am I supposed to do with ‘the now’?

There is a requirement to bow our heads. We should change our plans. Perhaps we should move quietly about in respect and reflection, contemplating events and encouraging something good to take root.

At the same time I picture networks of people staring into their smartphones making paltry, meaningless gestures of allegiance and defiance, promising the world to ‘keep people in their thoughts’.

Why? What good will that do, exactly? In our rush for solidarity we’re achieving little that is effective or useful. We’re demonstrating we are doing the ‘right thing’. We’re assuaging a deep yet unidentified sense of guilt. And – rather more dangerously – we’re establishing a norm amongst social networks that expects others to post the same.

Saying ‘our thoughts and prayers are with the families at this difficult time’ is a hollow line inserted by PR professionals at a time of crisis. It is intended to demonstrate good intent at the same time as protecting someone or an organisation from accusations of insensitivity and thoughtlessness. It is a signal to the world that we are doing the right thing. We are seeing that phrase so much in what we read that we’re now saying it ourselves.

Now is the time to reflect on ourselves, to understand what the news is and how it resonates with us personally and individually. Doing so may demand time – contrary to what social media and those of us who immerse ourselves in it implicitly demands.

To pause and reflect on ourselves means we can be authentic because it will reflect a greater self-awareness – itself a demonstration of greater understanding.

Not only that, it will mean that in the aftermath of an horrific event (made even more incomprehensible because of the media and the multiple ways we consume it) we can start changing ourselves.

And when we all start to change, so a movement will stand a better chance of beginning.

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