Culture

In the wake of a tragedy, can we choose to be kind?

by Gracia Chiang // July 22, 2021, 5:32 pm

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Angry comments have poured in from all over the internet in the aftermath of Monday’s tragic incident at River Valley High School.

From condemning the photographers camping outside the school and the insensitivity of media coverage, to lashing out at how trauma counselling was carried out by the teachers and whether the students should have been placed on home-based learning (HBL). 

I have been on both sides. The one where you need space to grieve. And the one where you’re just trying to do your job. 

When my brother died, we had to figure out how to politely turn away the reporter who showed up at my front gate as well as write to websites to ask if they could take down certain images.

As a journalist, I have also been asked to speak to the bereaved and hurting to hear their perspectives. It is always a difficult and heart-wrenching assignment that requires tact.

My point is: I believe we could all do with more empathy.

An excerpt from the original post.

Over the last two days, there have been heated discussions on Instagram over the follow-up action taken in the school.

In one post by someone who identified to be a River Valley High student, there were complaints about the behaviour of the press and the inadequate CARE programme organised by the school.

Similar sentiments were expressed in another post about the programme being too general and simplified, instead of being specialised to the students’ needs. 

In response, some students have spoken up, appealing to fellow students to have empathy, especially for the teachers who have worked tirelessly even while grieving.

In a post yesterday (which is now unavailable as her account has been made private), a student acknowledged that while the CARE programme was not perfect, she urged everyone to remember that the whole school is experiencing pain and to be kind.

How would the teachers feel when they come across such disparaging remarks that discredit their efforts despite all the hard work they’ve put in? 

So you wanna speak up on social media

She made a great point. Let’s try putting ourselves in the shoes of others. Let’s be mindful of the impact our words have on people. 

We don’t know what someone else might be battling behind the scenes. Can we not assume that by and large everyone’s just trying their best to see how to navigate the way forward?

The school, the educators, the media… this is all very new for everyone.

It is likely that many spent the public holiday on Tuesday scrambling to put together a course of action and are probably still struggling to manage the fallout from Monday’s events. 

There is hardly a playbook for a tragedy of this nature. And even if there was, can we not allow room for error and give people a chance to learn from their mistakes and grow? 

An excerpt from the original post.

It is heartening to see that one of the students returned with a second post yesterday apologising for the “bitter and insensitive ways of phrasing” in the original post, while also taking the opportunity to offer a tribute to teachers.

While still upset about the CARE programme, the student said: “However, after reflecting and seeing many of our seniors and schoolmates remarks, we do see now how we could have brought this feedback privately to our teachers instead of bringing it up online…”

“On hindsight, we should have reflected first before we started to dish out our opinions onto a large social media page. Instead, in the heat of the moment, we failed to recognise the care and rationale behind it and used words that undermined the efforts of all who have pieced it together.”

This student demonstrated humility and empathy, and I think there’s a lesson to be learnt here.

Can we voice our concerns in a manner that is gracious? 

Can we be wise in choosing where, when and with whom we raise them? 

Above all, can we be kind? 

About the author

Gracia Chiang

Gracia used to chase bad news. Now she shares Good News. A journalist by training, Gracia is thankful that she gets to use her gift of writing as the managing editor of Thir.st.