Quick Hide! It’s Poison is an edited version that was published in The Gainesville Sun
Emotional Poison: Sticking your head in the sand
In a letter to Dear Abby, a writer from Wisconsin asked how to handle grief in the wake of so many tragic events that are shown repeatedly by the media. The writer explains that she hasn’t known anyone personally affected by any of the “events” but her heart is weighed down by grief. I found the question troubling, and Dear Abby’s response to this writer was equally troubling. Her suggestion was to “…not remain glued to your television or computer screen…” but to “Ration the input, and the ‘poison’ will affect you less.”
Troubled by both the question and the answer, I make the connection to the academic world in which teachers are asked, even required, to give “trigger warnings”. Students can then decide to opt out if a topic, video, or lesson of any sort is troubling.
To “Wanting to Heal in Wisconsin” and to administrations, faculty and students who demand or comply with the idea that exposure to a certain subject might cause distress or even a traumatic reaction, I say “GOOD !”
To censor oneself from awful tragedies, both in America and abroad, is to hide one’s head in the sand. To refuse to acknowledge or accept the horrors that directly affect someone else should be “…challenging to process” for this Wisconsinite.
Yes, it is possible though not probable, to limit exposure to television, computer, and/or print sources, yet in one way or another tragic headlines will creep into a person’s consciousness. Unless a person retreats to a cave and never emerges again, there is no way to completely avoid the tragedies that occur around the globe. Horrible incidents may be brought on by an accident, a natural occurrence, or by the horrendous acts humans inflict upon one another, but whether someone is directly affected or not does not mean that they are unaffected. Everybody should be affected! Turning off the TV, and ignoring the facts to protect your feelings does not make the incident go away.
Maybe we should not heal, maybe people, like this person who wrote to Dear Abby, should open their eyes to the realities that too many other people face. In any case the tragedies soon disappear, quickly overshadowed by the next tragedy. As I write, our nation has been wracked by the mass murders of club goers in Orlando, by the loss of life of police officers in Dallas, by the shootings of blacks by police, and by the murders that go on multiple times a day. When the number of dead isn’t significant by current perspectives, they are not even deemed newsworthy. Yet these horrific events are paraded through the media. Journalists and cameramen hover like voyeuristic vultures around the scene, yet the stories quickly die as the next tragedy makes the headlines. How soon we forget.
It’s bad enough that horrible events are covered 24 hours a day. Now readers or, more commonly, viewers are inundated with side-stories as media sources suck up every detail, whether these are relevant to the story or not. No longer do news sources report just the facts. And facts are often subjective depending on the source of the news.
Oddly, with all the in-your-face, round-the-clock broadcasts, today’s news is more likely to be censored by entities who decide for one reason or another what the public should know. During the Viet Nam war; for example, the publics’ exposure to the ugliness and realities of this conflict were readily apparent through graphic pictures and newscasts of the devastation. In contrast, the publics’ exposure to the realities and facts of both the Gulf and Iraq wars and current conflicts are carefully crafted to avoid any semblance to the realities of war.
With these thoughts in mind I ask: How do students and the public at large receive and perceive tragic news? From the person who wrote to Dear Abby to a student who expects a Heads-up if a controversial or painful topic is discussed in a class, the idea that material should be prettied-up so one’s sensibilities are not disturbed is a cop-out. The Wisconsinite who wants to disengage or the student who wants to ensure her psyche isn’t disturbed is disturbing in and of itself.
Schools are bastions of information and a dispensary of knowledge for those willing to engage and discern the ideas presented both in and outside the classroom. The broad scope of subjects to which students are exposed should challenge their thinking and open new avenues of thought. A student at the college level must expect that not all subjects and topics will fall into that student’s comfort level. If a student isn’t ready to accept this aspect of college-level work or thought, he does not belong in the classroom. If professors have to consider every idea that may disturb students, then institutes of higher learning would have to put warning labels on class schedules or maybe designate one class as upholding liberal values or another as upholding conservative values. There is no place in advanced education for censorship on the part of school administrations, faculty and/or students.
Whether or not a person attends a college is irrelevant in regards to the ideas presented here. No one should shield herself or himself from the ugly realities of life. To say, as the Wisconsin writer does, that she hasn’t personally been affected by any tragedies is incorrect as evidenced by his or her own admission: “I know that I am not the only person who is confused about how to manage their emotions after national tragedies.” An emotion is an effect. For this writer or for Dear Abby to think that removing the “poison” will change or help anything is just wrong. To build a cocoon around one’s self to hide from an uncomfortable emotion doesn’t make the situation or the feeling go away. Take action. Pay attention. Do something.