There is a normal tendency, when faced with an event as vast and overwhelming as Hurricane Harvey, to, while not denying the disaster’s scope, pare it down to incidents and individuals more easily managed. The person helping a person; the rescuer with a beloved pet under each arm, wading through flood waters as he or she carries them to safety. These images we can digest, expanding outward from them to, as best we can, envision such a natural disaster’s immense scope.
Another normal tendency is, when events as momentous as what has besieged Houston and other cities in Texas, Louisiana, and elsewhere take place, kindly but firmly suggesting to others perpetually enveloped in their own personal drama that while (quoting Shakespeare) the quality of mercy is not strained (quoting no one I’m aware of) the amount of available sympathy is most likely severely rationed. It’s not that anyone stops caring about others when something heavy comes down, but you might have to accept a rain check and realize you’re not the universe’s center this week, with next week also in question. Spock noted in the second (and easily the best) Star Trek movie that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the individual or the few. This is a hard saying in today’s society, where self-definition demands the same glorification as self-glorification. Problem is, when everyone believes and acts like they are the star of the movie, the supporting cast is nowhere to be found and John Donne’s statement that no man is an island takes on a whole new meaning. The one-man or woman band quickly becomes a one-note samba providing no motivation for dancing.
This ties into the simultaneous beauty and horror of the Internet in general and social media in particular: fortunately, everyone can participate; unfortunately, so can anyone. Whether trolling others with differing views, hiding behind a screen name’s non-existent anonymity and deliberately provoking people in order to play the victim when they react, or constantly trolling for attention and/or sympathy while playing to the hilt the role of World’s Only Bereaved™, perpetually screaming online “look at MEEEEE” is the modern version of the boy who cried wolf: eventually, even if your complaint is legitimate, everyone else will have grown so tired of it and you that when you really need someone there will be no one around.
It may be utterly shocking to some – well, many – that were they to unplug once in a while the sun would rise the following morning. Equally astounding is the notion that there are other people in the world and they matter too. We all have our sorrows and our battles, this explaining why far more often than not pity party invitations are marked returned to sender. Even as it is improper to tell someone who is suffering they should get over it, it is inconsiderate to insist others allow themselves to be dragged with you as you wallow in your inability to get through it.
Loving someone is not manifested by there there-ing their perpetual plea for attention. It is manifested by knowing where sympathy is demonstrated via support. Don’t feed the attention-hungry trollers. Instead, suggest they shut up and go do something to uplift themselves other than be emotional vampires. Watch a Woody Woodpecker cartoon. Listen to some Grateful Dead. Turn off Facebook and Twitter in favor of feeling some sunshine on your face and listening to the birds tweet. Do something for someone.
There is enough rain falling on us all. Refuse to indulge your perpetual individual cloud. Embrace the sunshine daydream. Please.