There exists, within the hallowed shelves of the library kept by The Elders of the Internet (ref. The I.T. Crowd), a list that details the Hierarchy of Grief and Care. This list is hard to come by, and you only find out who owns a copy when you publicly express concern for anything via the Internet.
Rest assured, whatever you care for, and how ever you express your grief, you will fall foul of correct procedure as outlined in The List. Perhaps your Grandmother dies on the same day that someone younger and more noteworthy passes on, therefore your tears at her death at the age of 90 will be considered a selfish extravagance, considering what a good innings she had compared to other dead people who didn’t get to have nearly so long on the Earth, and are therefore more deserving of sadness than your Grandmother who lived in a big house anyway, and whose only worry was the ache in her wrist when she spent too long over The Times’ crossword.
The thing is, I’m not sure all the people in possession of The List are working from the same copy. Maybe the updates aren’t distributed regularly enough, or maybe there are different factions among The Elders of the Internet all of whom have different versions of The List, because I’ve noticed that the wrongness of your grief and care varies quite considerably. It is always wrong, but sometimes it’s differently wrong, e.g. ‘Why are you worrying about younger, more noteworthy people dying when you’ve just buried your own Grandmother?’
So, I propose a new List. One that takes into account the nuances of human feeling, is inclusive and evolving rather than set in stone, and is altogether less judgmental and point-scoring.
1. Care is not a competition, nor is your capacity for it finite. You are allowed to care about whatever you care about, and that does not detract from other things you may care about but have not explicitly mentioned.
2. Grief is personal and manifests in myriad ways. The one who weeps publicly does not necessarily care more than the one who carries their burden silently, and vice versa.
3. You do not have to publicly acknowledge all sides of a situation. It is enough to know that they exist. You can pick one side, you can empathise with all sides, you can remain neutral, you can express a view, you can choose not to express a view, you can get involved, you can keep out altogether. The choice is yours and no one has the right to tell you otherwise.
4. Your own immediate problems are allowed to trump solving the ills of the world. If you are currently tied up with sorting out the hole in your roof, you are excused from dropping everything this very second to go on a fundraising walk for 10,000 people whose homes blew away in a hurricane. This doesn’t mean you don’t feel great concern for those people, nor that you won’t pick up your charity work once your roof tiles are nailed back on and the water in the back bedroom has been mopped up.
5. The apparent failure to pass appropriate comment on news stories does not mean you are antipathetic to the plights of those affected. You may not have seen the story, or you may be aware of it, but feel you have nothing constructive to say. Likewise, just because you didn’t see media coverage of a particular incident, doesn’t mean there wasn’t any.
6. Religion is always a contentious point. If you are religious, please understand that questioning the tenets of a belief system is not a personal attack on you, and that condemning extremist views of any faith is not a condemnation of all members of that faith. If you aren’t religious, understand that some people are offended by any questioning of their belief system, so keep things factual, and keep a polite neutral tone. The first person to resort to ridicule has lost the argument.
7. Blaming all persons in a specific group for the actions of a few displays ignorance and prejudice. Conversely, dismissing certain killers as ‘lone psychopaths’ when they’ve left ample evidence of their racist or misogynist agendas is dismissive of the dangers certain groups face because of the attitudes of society.
8. Check your privilege. Yes, I know many roll their eyes at this phrase, but it’s important to remember not everyone gets the same chances in life, and meritocracy is largely a myth. You, a well-connected white male, may well believe you were the ‘best candidate’ for your job, but the Black woman with a better degree and more experience who was passed over has grounds for smelling a rat. Similarly, you never know the circumstances of an individual’s life, thus an apparently privileged person could be experiencing an horrific time and the last thing they need is to to be told how great their life is.
9. Lived experience trumps statistics. Many don’t report harassment or discrimination for fear of reprisals. Just because a report says we’re all equal now, doesn’t mean we are.
10. My house, my rules; your house, your rules. My blog is where I get to write about whatever I want. No one else gets to edit or approve it. Comments are moderated. I don’t have to provide a platform for you to disagree with me. If you feel strongly enough to express that disagreement, you do so on your own blog. This is not censorship.
11. Pick your battles. If you don’t feel particularly strongly about an issue, it’s not worth losing friends over it. If you do feel strongly about something, to the point of falling out with people, then it’s probably best to call time on said friendships rather than compromise your ideals.
12. Try to empathise with people in a way that is right for them, rather than is right for you. Telling a bereaved atheist that they might find comfort in the Lord is beyond offensive, as is saying to a bereaved religious person, ‘so much for your god, eh?’ At times like these, a simple ‘I’m sorry for your loss’ will suffice.
13. Stop saying ‘It’s not [fill in the blank], it’s people.’ Of course it’s people. Nobody thinks weapons go on rampages on their own; or that the pages of books whisper in corners and plan divisions. But people are a product of their circumstances, and some minds can be manipulated to view those outside their own group as the enemy. There are no ‘lone gunmen’. Nobody ‘just snaps’. There is always a trail leading up to any kind of tragedy. If we ignore such trails, history will repeat itself again and again. Yes, it’s people. People whose hands are forced by the availability of weapons; indoctrination by extremists; an entitled set who tell them that other human beings are theirs for the taking and consent means nothing.
14. There are no simple answers to the world’s many problems. ‘Just stop war.’ ‘Love one another.’ ‘Listen to the other side.’ ‘Think positively.’ If any of these and other platitudes achieved the effect of opposing sides each having a lightbulb moment, laying down their arms and saying, ‘you know what? We should just stop fighting, accept we have different views, and love each other anyway,’ wars would have ended centuries ago. Everyone wants peace, but they want it by their own definition and on their own terms. When two sides each see the other as fundamentally wrong, there can be no peace. This is the cycle of human nature in our current state of spiritual/mental/moral evolution. Maybe some time in the future things will change for the better, but for now the best we can do is ensure we cause each other the least possible harm.