The other morning housemate Judy and I were doing some yoga in the Shed, listening to a bit of music as we did. Then the news came on, and Judy remarked: “I think I’ll turn this off now. The newscasters always sound so alarming.”
Interesting, I thought, that’s how newscasters always sound to me. It seems to be the media’s way of underlining the scariness of what’s being reported, or even of creating scariness where we’re not yet feeling it. If you had a cynical streak, you might say the media was beating it up.
I think back to a few weeks ago when terror struck the heart of Sydney. Or more accurately, when a deranged dude took several people hostage in a café for 16 hours and ended up shooting one of them. Another was killed by “friendly fire”, and that death can be attributed to the bad dude, as it wouldn’t have happened without him. And he also was killed.
It was an awful thing to happen. But many, many other awful things happened to people in Sydney that day, things that didn’t get 24 hours of hysterical air time on all the local TV channels. On that same day in December, some people were killed in car accidents, some were deliberately killed by other people, some died too young from dreadful diseases. But the Martin Place incident had the electrifying possibility of being a terrorist attack. The words “possible terrorist attack” were used in the media for several hours, followed by “may not be a terrorist attack”, followed by, “not a terrorist attack” – each speculation milking the word “terrorist” until we were all in a fervour.
The Charlie Hebdo massacre was appalling and there is no doubt much to be learned from it. Eleven people were executed by armed gunmen with links to a larger organisation in the mid-east. We need to pay attention, to understand it.
But one thing we all know is that terrorists aim to instil fear. Thus they must be dancing in the street (or, more in character, nodding in grim satisfaction) when the world goes into a panic. (Close off the CBD! Shut down the airports! Double the National Guard!)
On a deeper level, the terrorist objective is to create divisiveness. A permanent and highly successful way of keeping people fearful is to have them at each other’s throats. And you have to admit, world leaders really played into their hands, linking arms and chanting Je suis Charlie. Two billion Muslims, almost all of whom would have resoundingly condemned the Charlie Hebdo massacre, were reluctant to express their oneness with an organisation that had seriously disrespected their religion. Many of those two billion people are feeling a little more separate than they were before the incident and subsequent protest. Divisiveness grew.
What to do!?
And what has all this to do with me? As an individual not directly affected by terrorist activity, living in the sleepy confines of Mitchells Island amidst bower birds and cattle and peaceful housemates, is there any way in which I can help get us on a steadier path?
– Well, I can attempt to not to add mass to the hysteria. I can refuse to inflame incidents by becoming emotionally embroiled in them, and shouting about them to all and sundry. I can learn to acknowledge them, recognise the suffering, see if I can pinpoint root causes – and then move on to things that add positivity to the world. I have every sympathy with people who boycott the news and newspapers. Myself, I can download the Sydney Morning Herald and steer my reading toward scientific breakthroughs, good deeds and considered analysis.
– And I can keep looking for what we have in common rather than for our differences. I can feel sympathy for the families of people who were executed for nothing more than poking fun and expressing irreverent views – as well as for people with beliefs so strong that no sense of humour can prevail. I can read books like Mornings in Jenin, which took me far outside my worldview in its visceral portrayal of what it must have been like for Palestinian land holders to find themselves suddenly dispossessed by another race and culture.
– And I can keep encouraging tolerance in my own life and in those of people around me. I can surround myself with people like my housemates, and encourage living situations like the one we’re in – where on a day-to-day basis we must find ways of accommodating other points of view. We sat in a house meeting this week, chewing on ways to have us all get what we want. It’s not a given. We have different views, needs, desires, interests. “It’s okay with me if you want to put sliding doors in the Shed guestrooms, but it’s not a priority for me.” “It’s okay with me if you want to have a good sound system in the lounge room, but not something I’d do myself.” “It’s okay with me if you want a dog but I don’t want to be responsible for its shenanigans.”
It doesn’t have to be all for one and one for all. That’ll never happen. But tolerance is appropriate, and something much easier to bring to the table. I’ll pay for the Shed doors; you pay for the sound system; you get your dog and look after it. And guess what? – we will likely all profit from each other’s adventures.
I don’t have to praise Allah to tolerate Muslims. I don’t have to like being satirised to tolerate it. As the French used to be good at saying, à chacun son goût
I just need to keep honing my ability to be inclusive.
So, yes, Judy, let’s turn off the news.