Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Four Steps to Respond in the Wake of Tragedy

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column,  Monday, June 4 / 18

Zack Gross

My wife and I have tended to skip the news on TV more and more in recent years.  The news generally should be called the “bad news” and it does tend to get you down.  It seems glib and disrespectful to say this in the wake of the Humboldt hockey bus disaster and the terrible downtown fire in Brandon.

I’m not advocating that people shut themselves away from the world.  And I can’t abide by the people whose response to situations at home and abroad is aggressive cynicism, just saying loudly “Who cares?!”  There are ways that we can respond, and hopefully not get a case of “response fatigue”.  Here is my “four steps” roadmap.

First of all, we can feel badly about the crash or the fire, or the many other devastating things going on in our world (mass shootings, epidemics, wars and so on).  After Humboldt, my wife and I put our sons’ old hockey sticks outside on our deck as a sign that we recognized the immensity of the tragedy. 

These days, people tweet out “thoughts and prayers” and that’s okay up to a certain point.  Sometimes, however, thoughts and prayers just aren’t enough – again, as in those mass shootings when US lawmakers substitute real action on guns with thoughts and prayers.

Next, we can give money, and indeed some $15 million was collected to aid the recovery of those impacted by the Humboldt crash.  In other situations – the Brandon fire and global emergencies – go-fund-me campaigns and charitable fundraising bring in dollars to help people affected by tragedy.  We donated some money to Humboldt, or I couldn’t write this article today with a clear conscience.

Thirdly, we change our lives in the face of tragedy (hopefully for the long term).  We drive more carefully, we appreciate more what we have, and we’re nicer to our loved ones.  Just the other day, we heard about a friend who was suffering through her second medical emergency in less than two months.  We felt badly for her and spent some money on a get well gift and realized how lucky we are to be healthy (touch wood!).
And, finally, we can take action.  We can be the ones collecting money instead of just giving it.  We can be the ones looking at our road safety, or becoming a volunteer responder or Red Cross worker.

In the world today, tragedy unfolds in many places on a daily basis.  People’s human rights are violated, people are underemployed and underpaid, people have no social safety net, and people are victims of natural and human-made disasters.

Again, we can feel badly, we can donate, we can change our own lives, and we can take action.  As an example, Brandon is a leader in changing its collective life and taking action as a Fair Trade Town, supporting the idea of paying people who produce our coffee, tea, sugar and other tropical crops with a fair return, safe working conditions and greater market access.

Manitoba is a leader in charitable giving, in volunteerism and in taking action on social issues.  Recently, a newcomer to our province remarked to me on how Manitobans are always active leaders on the issues of the day.  My response was that we have always been this way, that it is not something new.  We care, we give, we change, we act.

Maybe it is partly because the Prairies are like a small town.  Everyone knows everyone, or else knows someone who knows that person.  Speaking with Saskatchewan relatives, they said they didn’t directly know anyone involved in the Humboldt crash, but they found that many people at work were relatives, friends or former teammates of the victims.

In recent years, with the advent of social media and CNN-style reporting, it seemed like an opportunity had arisen for people in need to get their stories across to the rest of us.  My first example of this was the earthquake and tsunami that hit Asia back at Christmas 2004.  Because many people had visited there as tourists to Thailand in particular and because we immediately received images and details through the Internet and television, huge amounts of money were raised to help people recover and rebuild.

While people have remained generous overall, it is a challenge to raise funds year after year as donor fatigue sets in.  Things don’t seem on the surface to be getting any better and many people have less faith that their dollars will make a difference.

But it does make a difference to those whose lives are bettered, whether it is long-term medical care and rehabilitation for a crash victim, or a landing place for someone who has lost their home.  Thanks to those who care, give, change and act.

Zack Gross is a former Executive Director of Brandon’s The Marquis Project and now co-ordinates outreach for Fair Trade Manitoba.

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