The Real Problem with “Politicizing Tragedy”

We’ve all seen it: something tragic happens. News media and social media latch onto it. And in the end, people take sides. Whether it be a mass shooting, a natural disaster, an incident of police brutality, or some other heinous crime, you can bet that one side of the aisle will call for legislative action while the other criticizes their opponents for “politicizing tragedy” too soon after the event occurred.

But despite all of our outcry, real change never seems to come out of these tragic moments. We argue for a few weeks, share an angry post or comment on social media, listen to a news report or two, and then forget and move on with our lives until the next tragedy occurs.

We hate to think that people can truly be evil. Human beings have a natural tendency to look for the best in individuals (it’s called the positivity bias). So instead, we justify individual behavior. We blame the abominable actions of one person, or group of people, on the system. After all, it’s easier to place blame on the government. We love to hate the government.

We don’t like to hate our coworkers, neighbors, people who look like us, and people who live among us.

It makes us feel uncomfortable and unsafe, so we shift our criticism to something without a name or a face. That way, we can limit our outrage to a week or two and then go back to living our lives.

This isn’t to say that systematic factors don’t contribute to the heinous actions of individuals. The government can--and should--develop laws and regulations to work toward preventing the many deeply-rooted problems that lead to these terrible events.

But taking sides, blaming the system, and ranting on social media will never be the solution. Words not backed by action are useless. In my opinion, this is the real problem with “politicizing tragedy.” If “politicizing” meant taking steps toward real change, it would be worth it. As it stands now, “politicizing” is mostly a code word for displacing blame and chanting political rhetoric before slowly forgetting to care.

Next time a tragedy strikes (because there will be a next time), feel free to take sides. Don’t hesitate to stand up for what you believe in. But don’t “politicize.” Act.


Useful links:

Find out how to contact your representatives

Register to vote!

Help changing the world: resources for change agents