As people decide whether to respond to the Orlando nightclub shooting on social media, others are fighting over who’s saying what.
During the height of the struggle for Civil Rights, the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was speaking about the shocking number of whites who refused to get involved despite seeing for themselves that their fellow men and women were being mistreated.
Of that problem, he gave this famous quote:
History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.
Whenever an injustice or tragedy like Sunday’s mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub happens and appears to target a specific group of people, members of that group begin watching and making mental note about how others respond.
I suppose it’s human nature.
When you get right down to it, you want to know where you stand. You want to know who your friends are. You want to know who has your back and who doesn’t.
But now, with social media, we have the opportunity to speak out much more quickly than we used to. And with that ability to speak out, we also have the ability to be scrutinized by how quickly and how much we do speak up, if at all.
I was reminded of this by a Facebook post from a friend of mine who happens to be gay. His post included screen shots of two posts from others that heavily criticized others who those posters felt weren’t being supportive enough because they had not denounced the shooting and offered support for the LGBT community.
One of the posts he cited read:
Pay close attention to your straight friends ignoring the worst terrorist attack since 9/11. They were all praying for France though.
The other read:
Straight friends and family, please know: we hear your silence so loud [sic].
Did you post something on Facebook about the French attacks? I don’t think I did. I know some of the people I know on the site adjusted their profile picture to be superimposed behind the flag of France, but I don’t believe I did so.
It was certainly nothing against France or French people.
It was certainly not meant to imply I supported the terrorist attacks there.
It was certainly not a sign I didn’t mourn or didn’t care.
Perhaps when you’re the same type of person being attacked — whether that means the same gender, same race, same nationality, same faith or same orientation — you read that differently.
Clearly some do.
That Facebook friend of mine, one of those folks I’m connected with on social media despite having never met him in person even once, doesn’t see it that way.
Here’s part of what he had to say:
People grieve in different ways, and not everyone needs to post on Facebook about it. Sometimes silence is best. It sure as hell beats derogatory remarks about “the queers”…at least they aren’t saying we deserved it. Sometimes people are silent because they are in shock. Sometimes people pray in silence and don’t seek the drama of posting their every thought on Facebook. Some people are actually concerned for the safety of their friends, family, and themselves.
He goes on to point out “silence can have an infinite number or interpretations,” but adds that kind of “closed-minded post” only stirs up hate and will only “further stretch the already frail bonds between people from different walks of life.”
For what it’s worth, I changed my profile picture to a white heart over a rainbow flag background and printed across the heart is the hashtag, “#PrayForOrlando.”
It seemed appropriate. I could have posted more. But if my lack of a post on Facebook “condemning” the mass killing means I’m being “silent” about something and people will interpret that perceived “silence” as “gladness” the tragedy happened, those folks shouldn’t be on my friends list to begin with.
My friend is right: people do grieve in different ways. Some people need time — a lot of time — to process what they’ve seen and heard.
I might respectfully suggest that if, in the wake of such a tragedy that touches you so personally, that you’re scanning your friends list to “keep score,” you might be the one missing the point.
Maybe you need to spend more time praying for the victims and figuring out how you can actually help the situation, rather than judging everyone else based on whether you think they’re doing enough.
There are more constructive ways to use our time.