How spiritual and compassionate we’ve become, with the 140-character prayers we send out to the human universe, the one we can’t imagine expanding or contracting or crumbling to change. There’s no ‘right’ way to pray of course, anyone can do it. We don’t need to understand what it is we pray for, why we feel compelled to pray or whether god does in fact read Twitter.
So we #pray.
To each other, to victims, to Paris and to France. But even with the best intentions, the flickring candles of these online vigils seem dim the fourth, fifth, twentieth time around. It’s less prayer and more water cooler talk with some skewed religious bent; Remembrance Day poppies that warp to the dominant cares of our time. It’s Charlie Hebdo, now it’s the Paris attacks. And today, in the wake of some pointed remarks that Beirut was also bombed Friday, and that Syria’s death toll has reached 250,000 thousand, we’re praying for everything: Lebanon, Japan, Baghdad, Gaza, Honduras, Mexico.
There is a pattern emerging when ‘Third World’ events happen in the ‘First World’. We pray, collectively. We pour all of our feelings into tweets, posts, likes and shares. And now, in its newer iterations, the pattern quietly includes those who point out that acts of violence and barbarism happen all day long, every day, in places that don’t get hashtags, with victims nobody #prays for.
One recent post responds with the idea that everybody should pray for everybody. Setting race and religion aside, that humanity is where our compassion and prayers should both begin and end. (More critically, this piece by Hamid Dabashi brilliantly questions why acts against humanity only apply to certain humans.)
It’s nice to pray for everybody, but doesn’t it feel cheap and empty if you don’t know why you’re praying? Especially when the world’s response to those prayers quickly turns to war, racism, hate, vengeance, coldness. Will we pray for those who innocently get caught in the response to these attacks? The covered women viciously attacked by the uneducated and belligerent? The Muslim families dining at a local cafe who become “collateral” in the Western war for some higher purpose?
It’s nice to pray for everybody, but that’s not how we see the world. There is no ‘everybody praying for everybody’. There are Parisians mourning Parisians, and Arab artists contributing painted prayers, and headlines warning why we shouldn’t jump to conclusions that a Syrian passport was found nearby. These hashtag movements fuel themselves until the fires burns out and we all move on. They leave behind them the brief realization that in all our connectivity, we’ve forgotten there exist real divides between cultures, races and the way we talk about such things; that there exists a terrifying lack of learning about such things, with almost anything we say or produce online reinforcing or speaking to our underlying biases and norms.
Before Twitter and social media, would the world have cared enough about the Paris attacks to take to the streets in protest? Would we be able to articulate what it is we so fundamentally oppose? Would we write our local government representative, or thoughtfully pen some words about the situation? What about for Iraq, or Syria, or for the refugees fleeing the Middle East?
We live in a world of unprecedented connectivity and technology, and we use it to #pray at night for things we learned about that day. So if I must pray, I pray that changes. I #pray we get mad enough about injustices to have real discussions about them. I #pray our anger, fear and hurt over the worst of humanity translates into more good, more compassion, more understanding and a thirst for knowledge on the part of all of us. I #pray all of us feel affected by what happens to others around the world. That we care enough about all of humanity to regularly keep humanity in our prayers. That we stay informed about our world not when tragedy strikes, and not out of guilt, but out of our responsibility as global citizens. That we care in a world that, at the end of a very long day, is dominated by the collection of our individual humanity.