What I Learned at the Airport

by Nick Thornton

I was not going to join in on the debate and flurry of activity on the recent school shooting in Connecticut last week because, frankly, I didn’t have anything to add to the conversation. I’ve been pretty disgusted and turned off by the fact that everyone thinks they have something to say about the shootings. Yes, it’s nice to know people care and can show sympathy towards people who have had their lives destroyed by these heinous acts but this doesn’t necessarily make someone qualified to make an assessment on the intricacies of mental illness or gun control. For the record, I think those are valid conversations to have and SHOULD be had but maybe not by people who read one article on Huffington Post and are now an “expert” on such complex issues.

Like me, you’ve probably seen your facebook and twitter feed filled with heartbreaking headlines the last few days, usually accompanied by outrage, shock and empathy. Something that has been bugging me though, is the commentary that follows these posts, and the proliferation of the posts themselves. Undoubtedly, it’s important to be informed and to have debates on issues of vital importance but can we stop using people’s tragedy as our spring board for opinions? Yes, let’s have the conversations but how is posting pictures of people grieving being sensitive? It’s disgusting, amoral and sensationalist. Leave these poor people alone to grieve. Sticking cameras in children’s faces and snapping photos of families embracing outside of memorial services might make us feel better because it makes us sad and therefore like we care, but I see it only as one thing: a sick invasion of privacy and a vastly misplaced sense of empathy.

photo by http://americavisajobs.com/page/Arriving-in-America


So carrying around these feelings (and being outraged and shocked at the event) I went to pick up a friend at the airport on Saturday. The weather was grey and unforgiving and there was only one thing on people’s minds it seemed. Everyone had an angle, an opinion. My friend’s flight was delayed so I had to mill about the waiting area for an hour or so, with of course, the full 24 hour “special coverage” of the horrible details of the Connecticut shootings scrolling across all screens. Pundits were weighing in, field journalists speculated on motive and details and news anchors, barely able to contain their excitement over such a “story,” pontificated profoundly stupid questions to people trying to make sense of something horrible. I tried to ignore the news and resorted to people watching to take my mind off things.

After about twenty minutes, a woman who had been watching the news on the big screen turned around to walk away. She had apparently had enough too. Her eyes were red and streaked with tears. It’s likely she had no personal connection to the tragedy. She was just hurt and heartbroken. I doubt that woman, in that moment, had any opinion, any angle, she was just sad. And sometimes that’s enough. Sometimes there isn’t anything to say. Sometimes there just aren’t words.

Amidst all of this, the first batch of arrivals came through the doors off a flight from Sydney. Two young boys came racing through the automatic doors and actually did a full on “drop your bags and jump up on the people you’re waiting for” airport scene. It was pure, unbridled joy. They were so elated and more and more people came through and repeated this behaviour in more or less the same way. People cried and laughed and hugged each other hard. A group of young women waited jumping up and down for their long departed friend to arrive. There was one teenaged guy in the group who was determined not to cry but when his friend finally ran down the hallway, he burst into tears as well.

I still don’t have anything to say about what happened in Connecticut. Like all of you, I feel a whole range of things and am thinking hard about some serious issues that arise in moments like these. I don’t have any solutions or opinions, anything to wrap around this horrible event and make it all make sense. It doesn’t make sense to me and I’m not sure there is an answer. All I know is that when my friend came through that gate, I hugged her damn hard. Maybe that’s enough.

***Note: Before you comment, please read my opening carefully. I am not for a minute suggesting that debates on gun control and services for people suffering from mental illness shouldn’t be had. I think we would all do well however, to become better educated and listen for a while before spouting our opinions. I deeply hope this is what I have achieved here but am definitely open to criticism of that***

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Nick is a 4th year History major at UBC, as well as the CEO (and sole employee) of Unboring Learning.com, a free online learning site. His 5th grade report card said: "Nick is a conscientious student but distracts his classmates." You can follow him on Twitter: @unboringlearn

2 Responses to “What I Learned at the Airport”

  1. Lisa

    But the pattern suggests you have the same motive to speak. Capitalizing on an uncommon event to springboard your own opinion, though for this instance the event isn’t a shooting, it’s an overlode of Twitter and Facebook statuses mentioning the shooting. Disgust drove people to post on social media, and disgust on the opinion proliferation drives you to post on this blog. (my decision to comment falls into the pattern too!)

    “Normal” Facebook status updates and Twitter tweets seem to be about all sorts of everyday matters. Hockey, cats wearing glasses, exams, being pumped about life, memes, travel adventures, brunch pictures. Sandy Hook happens. Now ~50% are Sandy Hook related, 50% are “normal”.

    I think you wrote this piece to shape the internet conversations. How do you wish to shape it? By decreasing this ratio to 5% and have 95% normal chatter? Or keep the 50/50 but have references to the massacre cited and thoroughly researched?

  2. Nick

    Hi Lisa,

    I totally agree. Perhaps I should be clearer that I don’t think people’s facebook and twitter updates are seeking to capitalize on this event. It’s the origin of those stories, the media coverage that is seeking to do that. Of course this is on people’s minds but, as you suggest, it would be great to see people weigh in critically and perhaps after a little bit more thought, as you have. The other point that I’m trying to make is that it is okay to just have a reaction of feeling horrible about something and not necessarily have an opinion about how to fix it right away. I hope the discussion does continue but I don’t need photos of people at memorial services trying to grieve privately to do that.

    Thanks for commenting and making me think.

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