This week, billions of people felt empathetic sadness for the friends and family members of those who were injured or killed in the November 13th terrorist attacks. Unfortunately, while thoughts and feelings are powerful, they are not effective tools when compared to actually taking action. I feel helpless as we, the global community, have not yet done nearly enough to help those impacted by this brutality.
Over the weekend, hundreds of millions of people all over the world posted social media updates, selfies and tricolored profile pictures showing their support for the people of France. While much of the current debate revolves around the usefulness of posting a selfie of oneself in front of the Eiffel Tower, my thoughts have been elsewhere.
Attention is the World’s Most Precious Resource
Large corporations and governments spend billions of dollars every year trying to capture the world’s attention. This week, as social media participation skyrocketed, I worry that the terrorists got exactly what they wanted, the world’s attention.
Their brutal actions not only made the people of Paris feel unsafe, they also made the global community question their own safety. A large percentage of the world’s population is now wondering the same thing, who is responsible for these attacks and why did they do it.
I fear that this collective questioning, and the search that is currently taking place, may cause far worse effects than the brutality that we have already seen.
What Happens Next?
By acknowledging terrorists we inadvertently give them power.
I worry that the amount of global attention that this horrific series of attacks garnered will only inspire future terrorists to inflict more terror. In the United States, we have certainly seen this pattern with school shooters. The attention that Columbine High School generated (along with political policies) led to thousands of additional deaths.
Terrorists know they can be most effective through violence. Violence reaches its peak during war. Is war what they are after? Is France playing into a trap?
Admittedly this is merely speculation and the result of fearful thinking. My real worry is more immediate. What can I, or perhaps more importantly, what can we, do to actually make this horrific situation better? What can the every day person do to fight terrorism?
When a major natural disaster happens, large organizations make it easy for the normal people to donate money to the cause. While incredibly inefficient and ripe for corruption, the act of redistributing financial resources can be helpful.
Similarly, after natural disasters, organizations make it possible for people who have the luxury of extra time to donate their skills and in-person work efforts to help solve real world problems related to the originating disaster.
But what are we supposed to do after terrorist attacks?
I don’t have an answer.
Surely, drawing attention to the terrorists by plastering their faces all over the media is not the right direction. At the same time, debating the effectiveness of those trying to provide emotional support via social media to the people of France is also not the right direction.
So now, like many people globally, I feel helpless. I don’t know how to make this situation better.