The weight of turmoil and tragedy in America is heavy. I felt the emotional drain of it Monday morning as I read the news and checked my personal and university-related emails. The Associated Press app on my phone reported the mass shooting and near 60 deaths in Las Vegas. The gun control debate ensued before 500-plus victims could receive proper treatment. An email from Southern Arkansas University's president shared news of a student's death on campus.
President Trump and the First Lady went to Puerto Rico, where he made inappropriate and bizarre comments. A candlelight vigil to honor the student was announced. Tom Petty died — hours after news reports of his demise were exaggerated. The gun control debate continued. The Trumps visited Las Vegas.
Angst, emotional roller coaster ride. And I made a genuine effort to study for an exam Wednesday in my social work practice class. There on page 3 of William Brueggemann's "The Practice of Macro Social Work" was a passage my professor, Jennifer Turner, had referenced earlier in the semester. It seemed more profound:
"Indifference to the plight of others in pain allows 'man's inhumanity to man' to thrive," Bruegemann wrote. "When we are simple bystanders — spectators rather than actors in human affairs — we become devoid of social responsibility and retreat into a world of indifference, exploitation, and greed. We become socially and ethically numb, giving tacit assent to a host of social ills that eat at the heart of our well-being."
Meanwhile in Puerto Rico:
TRUMP: We've saved a lot of lives. If you look at the — every death is a horror. But if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina, and you look at the tremendous — hundred and hundred and hundreds of people that died. And you look at what happened here with really a storm that was totally overpowering. Nobody's ever seen anything like this. And what is your death count at this point, 17?
PUERTO RICO GOV. RICARDO ROSELLÓ: Sixteen, certified.
TRUMP: Sixteen people, certified — 16 people versus in the thousands. You can be very proud of all of your people, all of our people working together. Sixteen versus literally thousands of people.
Shows up. Contradicts things previously said on Twitter. Boasts. Complains about the cost or relief efforts. Minimizes the plight of others. Tosses paper towels.
How do you arrive at such a comparison in considering the plight of a decimated U.S. territory? After Trump left, the death toll had risen to 34 and it could continue to rise as recovery efforts continue. More than 1,800, but fewer than 2,000 people (not the literally thousands Trump indicated), died in 2005 as a result of Hurricane Katrina. Hopefully, the numbers will remain comparatively low if comparisons must be drawn. Both are tragic events.
The aforementioned behavior is typical now. In fact, I almost didn't mention it because that is how Trump speaks. We are desensitized to it just as we are the now routine mass shootings and other forms of violence that eat away at our well-being. He is the example because he is president, but certainly he isn't alone in the practice of minimizing and marginalizing others.
I don't have the solutions for what ails our society, but I do know that finding them starts with each of one of us. And being kind to others and respectful of the rights and beliefs of others is key.
Find your voice, advocate for your beliefs — whatever they may be. Don't settle for being a spectator. Shake off the numbness. Stand tall, take a knee. Resist, persist and protest, if necessary, but do it peacefully. Borrow a few words from the late Tom Petty: "Don't back down."
Shea Wilson is the former managing editor of the El Dorado News-Times. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @SheaWilson7.