When tragedy strikes in today’s hyper-connected world, we responded predictably. We hug our children, donate blood, buy blankets, and talk about how things like this make you remember what’s important.
And then we forget.
The next shooting, bombing, hurricane, or tornado hits, and we’re reminded again of how precious our loved ones are, how small our obsessions with stuff and status.
And then we forget.
By my calculation, it takes about a week for our compassion to fade and our perspective to shift back to pre-tragedy levels. Even after a week filled with multiple heartaches, it took less than 10 days before I started reading about someone offending someone else with relatively unimportant words. At least, the words would have been deemed unimportant the previous week.
It’s funny what we consider important once our news feeds stop flashing pictures of bleeding people and unlikely heroes.
It’s not so funny, but easy to forget, that our news feeds aren’t the best indicator of whether or not there is tragedy in the world. The reality is that there is always someone bleeding, someone running to the rescue, and someone turning the other way. War, famine, and injustice are as common as poverty and cruelty.
There is always a reason to be grateful for what we have and to hold tighter to those we love.
But we can’t live with that in our faces all the time. We just can’t. Our hearts could not take it if we had to witness all the suffering of the world at all times. We would stop hugging our kids and curl up into balls of despair, or we would harden our souls completely in order to function.
No, the answer to keeping our perspective is not to wallow unceasingly in the horror.
The answer, I think, is gratitude.
That’s really why tragedy shifts our perspective. In the face of loss, we instinctively stop and count what remains, and we give thanks for it. And by doing so we remember what matters most to us, and we let go of what is not.
We can experience that same grounding every day. When we practice taking inventory every single day of the things that we treasure, we constantly pull our perspectives back to where we want them to be. We can do that in between the breaking headlines.
Do you have a gratitude practice?