How to Respond to Tragedy – Just My Opinion

Our world is built on balance. When one force wins, another must lose. As one ideology rises, soon another shall fall. And sadly, with great joy, there must be tragedy. In every case, without one, the other would not exist. And yet, despite this being common knowledge, modern society seems to struggle in how to respond to tragedy. It’s easy to cheer a winner, at least for a few minutes, but when darkness prevails, many find themselves unable to offer comforting words. Instead, an odd dynamic occurs; one in which a collective voice seems to scream out a litany of commentary that not only fails to comfort, but actually makes things worse.

Many experts confirm that we, as a human race, have a negativity bias. Listening to the aggregate crowd of talking heads, influencers, keyboard warriors, media puppets, and people who claim to be in the know, it seems an obvious validation. The commentary is purposeful and meant to drive engagement, often through divisive and derogatory rhetoric. People are not listening to positive news. Inspiring stories, once in a while, do surface, but bookended between the grisly and the horrible. When a tragedy happens, those happy tales are shelved, and then full speed ahead with finger pointing, politics, and persecution. What is even more startling is that the negativity bias lingers.

Perhaps that is why no one who writes or delivers copy, is immune from this vicious cycle; at least no one who wants to be noticed. The positivity crusaders seems to write inspirational poetry, articles about food, do it yourself, self-help, or textbooks. All the while, they struggle with trying to understand why so few of them actually achieve commercial success. The dirt-diggers, mudslingers, and controversial pundits seem to bask in glory, while they get overlooked.

What is obvious to them, but not to the masses, it just because everyone is doing it, that doesn’t make it right. It only makes it profitable, retweeted, shared, and if the writer is consistent with their nastiness, might make them front page news. Their fame depends on engagement, and a lot of it. So, if you are one of those people who choose to be positive, choose to be helpful rather than spiteful, and want to contribute to bettering the world, then respond to tragedy differently. Cut off the supply of commentary and experience some personal growth in the process.

Eight Simple Things to Avoid – How Not to Respond to Tragedy

Do not make uneven comparisons. This is good advice when speaking about natural disasters. Comparing a hurricane this season to hurricanes last season, or five years ago is factual reporting. To compare the death toll in a hurricane this year, against a flood a hundred years ago or the number of casualties in an unpopular war, doesn’t do anything, except drive a false narrative and a broad line of commentary. Often these types of stories will see multiple threads, driving ever-increasing lines of negative engagement.

Another no-no to avoid is making any statement that begins with a version of, “they should have.” Some examples of this scenario are, “they should have evacuated,” or “why weren’t they better prepared to deal with this.” What someone should have done said in the Monday morning quarterback voice, does nothing but bring anger to the story. It shows a merciless arrogance from the writer, but also creates negative engagement. In this instance, we’ll see two sides emerge; one agreeing with the antagonist, and the other desperately trying to explain why events went they way they did. Sometimes its impossible to predict events, but that doesn’t stop the pot-stirrers.

Bringing politics into any tragedy is unhelpful. Anyone who pays attention to modern day politics knows that there are distinct sides who fight from their well-fortified seats of power. Neither side is willing to yield on even the smallest of issues, and common ground is a rarity. The number of examples to demonstrate this response to tragedy are numerous. A school shooting immediately brings up vitriolic conversations of gun control. Any criminal action by a migrant dredges up countless stories on immigration policies and failures of the system. A train derailment today is blamed on policies written years ago, by people long since out of office. The list goes on and on, but the end result will always drive a negative narrative, and of course that desired negative engagement. In the end, too many people fail to consider that laws are laws. If the law is not working, then lobby to change the law, or policy that is offending; whining, blaming, or trying to attach policy to tragedy, is not going to change anything. If you want to do something, run for Office.

Piggybacking off of tragedy is despicable but happens frequently. Too often we see groups violate the unwritten rules of dealing with tragedy by fundraising. Do not misinterpret this to say that reaching out to help with generous monetary donations is wrong. Trying to get people to donate to special interest groups or political campaigns, exploiting the tragedy, is simply wrong. Solicitations for funding global warming after a hurricane, or a political party asking for money after a tragedy that goes against their platform are good examples.

Similar to the second point, but different enough to be a separate consideration is don’t verbalize or print obviously stupid questions in light of a tragedy. Some examples might be, “why do people build houses along the Louisiana coast,” or “they knew the area was prone to mudslides, so why are they living there.” Since humankind has existed, people have habituated appealing areas to live, even if there are risks associated with them. Oceanic storms have battered coastlines across the world, but they are infrequent. Volcanoes erupt and earthquakes happen. No geography is shielded from natural disasters, but people sure do like to question other’s decisions, at least until the problem occurs in their own back yard.

When tragedy strikes an individual, there is a two-fold approach that we see occur. Don’t allow yourself to be caught up in either one. The first is blaming the victim and the second is putting yourself in the victim’s shoes. Rape cases are a tragedy that can scar a person for life. A violent assault by one or more powerful aggressors is a harrowing event, but when someone starts victim-shaming, it creates a dubious thread of divisive commentary. Do not dare to put yourself in the victim’s shoes unless you’ve actually experienced the same thing. If you’ve lived through an earthquake, you understand the terror involved and can accurately speak about it. Everyone else can offer their sympathy, but that is the extent of it.

Do not under any circumstance, pretend, imply, or otherwise act as if you have expertise on a tragedy. If you are an educated economist discussing a collapse in the financial markets, leading to massive unemployment, that’s acceptable. However, if you are an athlete or actor or talking head, it’s not. Just keep quiet and let the experts talk. Even news stations realize that when something serious happens, they bring in experts to narrate it. Judges do the same. There are too many “I read about this online and now I know everything, so listen to me,” people out there today. Do not be one of them.

Avoid the traditional blame game topics when it comes to person-on-person violence. Not everything is caused by racism, Islamophobia, white supremacy, mass incarceration, or police brutality. In fact, more often than not, tragedy occurs due to reasons other than any of these. Street crime is driven by greed, mental illness, drug abuse, someone feeling disrespected, and opportunity. There are actions caused by the traditional media talking points, but the numbers are much fewer than we would expect. By putting as many crimes as possible under those umbrellas, the voices of chaos drive false fears, division, and actually create walls between various parts of society. It’s imperative that you try to see through the spin and look at the facts. If a crime is racially driven, then the facts will usually reveal that origin. But a random mugging on a city street, even if the participants are of different races, isn’t likely to be race driven.


Opinions are like bellybuttons; everyone has one, and they are all different. You, the reader, might disagree with some or all of this work. It’s your right as a citizen of planet earth. Others might see value in looking at how negativity has been the historical approach to dealing with tragedy. One last thought would be to consider not engaging with the purveyors of negativity. Avoid becoming snared in those online debates, even when you feel a virtuous point needs to be made. Forgo engaging those who live in the darkened underbelly of humanity, and instead rise above it with positive words, actions, and deeds. Raise your vibration, be a beacon of hope, and find light in the darkness of tragedy.

Additional Reading

If you are interested in learning more about the Negativity Bias, this article on verywellMind is a good starting point

R.J. Schwartz is an American author with over one thousand online publications, including poetry, short stories, essays, historical documentaries, opinions, and technology.

He also is a published author, with his fifth book due out in early 2024. His profile on Goodreads can be found here.


R J Schwartz
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R J Schwartz

I write about everything and sometimes nothing at all. I'm fascinated by old things, rusty things, abandoned places, or anywhere that a secret might be unearthed. I'm passionate about history and many of my pieces are anchored in one concept of time or another. I've always been a writer, dating back to my youth, but the last decade has been a time of growth for me. I'm continually pushing the limitations of vocabulary, syntax, and descriptive phrasing.

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