Emotions and Actions in the Tragedy Aftermath

Whenever a tragedy (a terrorist attack, a natural catastrophe, or a man-made disaster) strikes  a ripple effect is visible.  The greatest shock and response belongs to the people directly affected.  Then on a different scale and different response come the relatives, friends, or neighbors.  Then the local community feels the indirect effect eventually followed by reactions from distant groups of people which have been drawn into by (social) media.

Regardless of the geographical or emotional distance from the nexus of the tragedy three emotions are being expressed by all normal people:

  1. Fear – the amygdala kicks in pushing all of us into a flight response; even if we are nowhere near the danger our imagination instantly creates a flashing mental scenario in which we might have been present and subject to considerable threats to our lives or health
  2. Sympathy – after the initial fear our judgment takes over and confirms that no threats are in fact real. But since we have already imagined the drama our emotional levers are activated and produce the sympathy or empathy.  It is the expression of our emotional participation to the drama that is actually affecting other people.
  3. Solidarity – at a certain point we conclude that simple sympathy, no matter how sincere and supportive, may not be sufficient for the real pains incurred by the tragedy-stricken individuals. And then we gather our might and offer it for the purpose of alleviating the pain and the loss.  While sympathy may be expressed in a rather passive manner, solidarity means action.  Donating money or blood, getting involved in rescue missions, fund raising or public awareness campaigns: solidarity brings people together in moving and shaking the community in order to obtain actual help for the victims.

Tragedy is like strong acid – it dissolves away all but the very gold of truth.

D.H. Lawrence

In parallel with their personal journey through the emotional ripples of tragedy people are struggling to find an acceptable meaning, a logical sense.  People no longer accept unexplained or unfortunate tragedies.  They need and demand explanations, responsibilities, and measures to prevent or at least diminish the probability or the impact of tragedies.  If actions are not defined and made soon enough the compassion may turn into radical dissatisfaction and possible reaction.

Crises demand leadership.

When everyone’s mind is dulled or distracted the leader must be doubly vigilant.

Colin Powell

Somewhere near or behind the scene of the tragedy there must be a group of people with decision making skills and authority to use the resources of reason and decision making.  Whether this collective effort is visible or it happens behind closed doors, the process also looks like a ripple effect:

  1. Collect and analyze relevant facts
  2. Discover the cause of whatever nature it might be
  3. Define alternative solutions
  4. Select the most appropriate solution based on the potential capacity to prevent tragedies to happen but also on probable consequences
  5. Determine course of action and measure the impact

Depending on the scale, impact, and causes of the tragedy decision making bodies may be at local, national, or international level.  The process may be the same, but the competence, decisiveness, and resources of the leaders can and does make all the difference.