Bad news — like really bad news — seems to be happening at a more frequent rate lately.

Disasters always happen, but the last six months alone have had some mind-blowing, heartbreaking events:  The horrific school shooting in Newtown, Conn.; the Boston Marathon bombings; the explosion in West, Texas.

And, today, the monster tornado that destroyed lives and families in Oklahoma.

Every time one of these things happens lately, the pattern feels the same: We sit in front of the TV glued to the endless loop of the same pictures (why these huge networks can’t come up with more footage is beyond me) and think to ourselves, “Wow, this really puts things in perspective.”

Then a week goes by — maybe not even that much — and that perspective disappears.

Why does that happen? Our lives should be enriched by perspective gained through realizing, “Holy crap, there are people who have REAL problems — and they make mine look like nothing.” And maybe for a short time, we are affected and do respond.

But then it’s back to normal.

Before long, we’re getting irritated with family members, bad-mouthing people from work, losing our tempers because someone cuts us off in traffic or takes too long at the ATM.

What gives? Why is perspective so hard to maintain?

Even after 9/11, when the country was more united than I can ever remember in our lifetime, we soon went back to partisan bickering. If possible, we’re even more divided than before.

Perhaps it’s that to enjoy life, we don’t allow ourselves to dwell on these disasters. These things happen to “other” people, and while we pause to be sad for them and express our shock at what occurred, we eventually move on.

That seems awfully selfish, because the families who have suffered through tragedies can never truly move on. But we all do it. I wish we didn’t.

Can anyone explain why?

30 Replies to “Perspective”

  1. I have wondered this quite often. In the aftermath of Newtown, I made a posting on a message forum talking about how we need to be united all the time, live as friends and neighbors, and so on. Not just when bad things happen. It’s as though we pass a certain threshold of time and go back into our little fishbowls, cut off from the plight of our brothers until something cataclysmic enough to occupy the news networks for five or six straight days – or longer – kind of snaps us back to reality.

  2. If you dwell on the negatives, the disasters, you’re going to make your life miserable. It’s not the nicest thing to do, but it’s the best thing you can do for your own self and your own sanity. If you spent every moment worrying about all the terrible things happening to other people in the world, you wouldn’t be able to function.

    We live in a very selfish society, but sometimes that’s what is needed. We all live in a me-first, family-second, friends-third type of lifestyle. If it doesn’t affect us directly, or someone close to us, then it’s not important. It’s only important when a big event happens, such as the ones that you described. We use these events to keep us grounded and remind us that things could always possibly be worse.

  3. I think we lose perspective because we like normalcy. We want to go back to what feels right because we are uncomfortable with tragedy. It’s all about interior perspective, can you take some time to think about life each night? It’s hard to tell if people do that or just suppress that memory because we like to focus on positive things.

  4. Media and partially ineffective campaigns have something to do with it, I think. Kony is a good example of how so many Americans can feel ambitious to improve the international society and then within weeks, return to normal. Until something bad of this magnitude happens to us or effects us, we will never know what it feels like. Unfortunately, I think it’s human instinct to make it through one disaster and move on. In some situations it can be beneficial but in ones when our neighbors are seeking help, it is sad.

  5. Sadly it’s the flavor of the day. It is also its instant right here real time. Happening now we have to be first not entirely right just first. I remember the Xenia OH tornado in 74 I was 9. You herd about it on the news at 6 pm it was maybe 2 or 3 min and they moved on. Now it’s every rumor is reported and stretched for sensationalism . Did you see the reporter caught live coaching the kid what to say today? Pathetic. #pray4Moore

  6. It’s the mind’s self defense mechanism. Just like you can’t remember the details of being in a car accident. The mind blocks those strong negative feelings. Time heals all (mental) wounds, even ones that are caused by the pains of others. It doesn’t mean we care less. It just helps us move on.

  7. I think it has to do with moving on. Like when someone you love dies and you look at the rest of the world and things go on like normal, while your world crashed and you think, how can things just keep going, while I am in so much pain. Then eventually after the mourning, you move on too, just like all those other people. It’s part of healing, when it’s someone close, it’s a longer process, but when it’s removed, the process is fast forwarded, because those people don’t affect your day to day life, it is a tenuous connection. We feel sad, not because we know those people, but because we can sympathize with their situation. But we can feel that sadness & still function normally. Those feelings stay on the peripheral of our lives.

  8. Self preservation. We watch these tragedies and think how horrible it must be for those going through it. We tweet about it, post it on Facebook, watch hours of the same footage on TV, and cry/pray/ask each other why. But then we move on because we have to. We can’t spend our entire lives living in the darkness of tragedies for the same reason we can’t live in fear after a horrific terrorist attack such as 9/11…it wouldn’t be living. The morning after the shootings in CT, I spent two hours crying on the couch while watching news footage on a loop. And then I pulled myself together and participated happily in my sons 7th birthday party, which happened to be that day. Does that mean I cared any less about all of those families who would never celebrate with their babies again? Of course not but I can only put my life on hold for a finite amount of time to grieve for the loss of others before I get back to living my life as well, and that includes those small daily irritants that come with it. I am not saying we shouldn’t spend time contemplating what others are going through when these things happen, we should. We should also do anything we can do to help. But eventually we have to get back to living our lives. Because what is the point of enduring all of the darkness without being able to enjoy the light?

  9. The speed of social media lets us all share thoughts and feelings much quicker.

    For example, nobody but one print article discussed Tet 1969 offensive in Vietnam, our 25th Infantry Div. experienced at Cu Chi Base camp.

    Today, millions at once can share their thoughts and joys about anything, in 140 characters.

    Twitter has become my news feed. I find happy, sad, supportive stuff there. I filter out the hate, noise on my own with a click called UNFOLLOW.

    I really feel if we all served our country, in some form we would be more united. Just like UNC-Chapel Hill makes all its grads pass a swimming pool test!

    Meanwhile, tonight I listen to OKC FD live radio scanner feed (unfiltered) and keep them in my prayers.

    1. Agreed. I have seen & experienced some very BAD things in my military career. If I were to dwell upon those things, I would become ineffective at my job.

      Great insight.

  10. Because, to keep the perspective, it takes work. We avoid the hard truths in life – whether it be the natural tragedies like Moore, the accidents like West or the man-made ones like Newtown or the marathon. We take the easy way out – to go back to “normal”. Sadly, I suffer with this like everyone else does.

    Prayer for those affected in Moore. And prayers for all of us to not take the easy way out.

    (Thanks for all your writings, Jeff)

  11. We move on because we are blessed enough to. We don’t dwell on bad things because we are blessed enough to. A saying we have in the military goes “The amount of complaining is in direct correlation with the amount of creature comforts one has, i.e, the better off you have it, the more you’ll gripe when something goes wrong. An internet meme calls it “First World Problems”.

    One reason may be because so many people have access to cable TV, internet, social media and smartphones. Without these, news of tragedies would be move a lot slower, thus muting the response. Without the ability of helicopters to actually document the tragedies, and the storm chasers to broadcast real time videos of the devastation, many people wouldn’t understand the impact of these events.

    I will say this- in the face of tragedies, who else comes together better than the US? We may be a flighty, short-term memory kind of folk, but when we put our nose to the grindstone, we go ALL IN.

  12. I think the same thing when these things happen,we need to unite as a whole unit.I remember so well 911 here in Canada,I had people staying with me from all parts of the USA,not able to get home to their families and some not even able to contact their families,all I could do was make them as comfortable as possible,pray with them and listen to them talk about what happened to their Country,we as a Unit worked together,Canadians,Americans and people from all over the world had been touched by this..
    Then it wasn’t on the News anymore or at least not front story and we went back to who and what we where,I personally made many many friends for life,but we still went on
    Now again in the US we have had children being killed,people taking some fun time to watch a movie killed.a Marathon where it was suppose to be a great day destroyed by bombs,and now Tornadoes devastating the US and has taken at least 51 people including children,yes we watch the TV and wonder how they will cope,we watch the pictures over and over again, of the destruction,but in a few days we will have moved on and put this in the back of our minds,,,, People do not worry about the guy cutting you off in traffic,or the kid crying on the plane,or why you had such lousy service somewhere,take a minute to think of ALL these people that have been touched by these disasters who can not do that they have nothing and they have no one.Think about them and what they must be going through,, doesn’t seem so important does it ,that it took you 2 more minutes to get to work cause you had to wait in traffic or your meal was not exact????
    We all need to reach out and UNITE together,will I ever see that in my lifetime??? God I hope so …Oh and for the ones reading this that do not think I know what its like I buried my husband at 48 (He served his Country well) and I buried both my children one at 12 and one at 19,and it breaks my heart every time I see these attacks on TV all I can do is say a prayer for all of these people I hope it helps them to know that we Love them and we are thinking about them ,

    A Proud Canadian hoping for Change

  13. Hey Jeff, I met you at the Martinsville tweet-up. I was thankful for the time you took to answer questions and interact with the fans there. In that moment, you were less concerned about all of your opportunities inside the track and recognized that there were fans around you who would not come close to seeing what you see, so you brought it to us.

    Often times we see the suffering around us and feel helpless and hopeless. First, as is often quoted but rarely done, we can pray to the living God on behalf of these hurting people. The Scriptures say that The Lord is near to the brokenhearted. We can also serve, even going as far as driving to Oklahoma and offering our assistance in any way possible. When it is all said and done, though, we must move on. It’s not forgetting what has happened, but movin forward in light of what has happened and being changed for the better for it. Our awareness of the needs an pain around us should increase, and our appreciation for each day should as well. If you don’t see this happening around you, don’t be discouraged, but rather “be the change you wish to see in the world.” Jesus warned us of the tragedies that would happen before the earth ends in Matthew 24:3-14. Ultimately, though, he gave us eternal hope and said these words, found in John 16:33 – “…in the world you will have tribulation, but be if good cheer, I have overcome the world.” God bless you.

  14. I don’t know. I just don’t know. It’s a complicated question based on things we perceive to be true.

    The one thing I know is that we didn’t get to the top because we were smartest or strongest or even the most mentally tough. We did it because we evolved, changed and adapted. Whatever got thrown at us, we ducked, caught or replicated.

    And a lot of shit gets thrown our way. The toughest of circumstances. Time and again. Sometimes more often than others, but it’s ALWAYS coming. Sometimes to you, and sometimes to the fella next to you.

    But you have to get up. You have to dust off the one next to you. And you have to keep fighting and adapting. We’re all in this together, and we’re all counting on you just like you’re counting on me.

    You can look at all of it fatalistically, or you can look at it as a celebration of life. You can’t change the wind, but you can change the thing after the wind. It’s not fair what happened, but you gotta find a way out of the rubble.

    A hug, a smile, a difference. It’s not expected, but it’s most needed. It changes the game. It starts the adaptation and evolution. We say it every week in church, but the Serenity Prayer is meant to be lived.

  15. we feel for all the disasters and sadness, but yes , it is only one life we have and we have to live it to fullest every day we can..

    So yes, as weeks go by we tend to not forget the disasters, but move on from the heartbreak of them because we are the fortunate ones to be able to have that opportunity

  16. Human nature has a short focused attention span. What happened in Moore, OK today is beyond devastating and has touched anyone who has heard about it. Unfortunately something else is going to happen and take peoples attention from Moore to whatever that new event happens to be. We don’t forget about the previous events. It’s just that life continues to happen and other things take priority until the next big event happens.

    Thanks Jeff for creating this site. It shows that you’re more then NASCAR which is what your many followers should already know!

  17. Jeff, it is sad, but true….we all are empathetic for that period of time that however we determine it to be, necessary, then we do slip back into our, as Aaron stated, “fishbowls”. It is very easy for us to move on because in some fashion it is just that one (or more) degree removed from us and our immediate life. I am not proud to admit this, but I have reacted in that very same way; empathetic for the immediate situation and then I forgot, or put it out of my mind and continue on with my life. Until 9/11. It was in MY “backyard”. It took the life of one of my friends, and as sad as it is to say, I was lucky it was just one…others lost more. It changed my perspective forever. It taught me many lessons; among them was to live every day with everything you have got, because tomorrow may be your last, and you will never see it coming. Another lesson I learned was to be kinder to those around me. The man with a scowl on his face deserves my smile regardless, who am I to know his burden? Always help someone when you can; you never know how your small act of generosity, no matter how trite and in what fashion, can make all the difference in someone’s life. Also, appreciate what you have and be grateful for it, whether it be your family, your health, your job, your property; it can all be taken from you in the blink of an eye.

    I think that sometimes our inability to have the “perspective” comes from perhaps the lack of having it earned, learned or forced. Sometimes it takes something close to home and personal to give you your perspective. I wish that no one ever had to endure pain, loss, hardship or tragedy in order for any of us to be truly empathetic. All we can do is try…try to be the best we can for our neighbors and pray that if ever we were the victim that someone would return the favor to us!!

  18. Everyone seems to be preoccupied with their own situations. They take time off and pay attention to breaking news for a short time then its back to their regular routine. That alone in some cases consumes them

  19. I don’t think it’s that we all lose perspective, but rather for some of us it would be too overwhelming to continue to dwell on it. I know that I couldn’t get through if I did. This time I didn’t even turn on the TV because I have a good friend out there and it would just get me worked up even though we know she’s ok. I guess the best we can do as individuals is be the best person we can be regardless of the current situation and carry that forward continuously.

  20. It is selfish to be sad, not to carry on with your life as it is.

    To make yourself a victim, when you have the opportunity to live, insults those who lost that opportunity, or feel as though they did, even if only temporarily.

    The highest duty we owe to each other is to be happy. Whenever we are in a position to be happy, we should be.

    Perspective should not to not move on. Perspective isn’t dwelling.

    Perspective is remembering that we need to create a world in which people feel alright. We only do that by feeling alright ourselves.

    It can’t be “wow, they have it so much worse.” It must be “wow, I can make things so much better.” What you do for yourself will, indirectly, be done for all others. Attitudes spread, in practice, not just in clichés.

    When you feel equipped to deal with your own problems, you give others an environment in which they can better deal with theirs.

    Moreover, when people feel guilty about how they feel, a horrible situation is created. Instead of reducing what we feel, trivial as it may be, we should ask ourselves why we feel that way. Why do long lines bother us? Why do delays bother us? Why does traffic bother us?

    If something irritates you, it is valid. That’s the end of it. If you feel it, it’s important. Not feeling it anymore takes more than perspective, more than, “don’t feel that; it’s stupid.” It takes a lot of introspection on why you react in the ways you do.

    That is purely personal, and independent of perspective.

  21. One could say humans are naturally illogical and fallible beings. We live in the moment while doing our best to honor the past. At times we appear to forget the past and focus on that which is trivial and ultimately fruitless.

    Or maybe it’s that we even after staring into the face of darkness and tragedy we can rise above it to find some sense of normalcy. We never truly forget and the pain never wains, but instead of dwelling on it we channel it into something else. Some use this to power great and moving acts, while others chose to use it to merely carry on in life.

    I started pharmacy school three years ago as, what I thought, well rounded newlywed. In the years since then I have become a father, buried a best friend and eulogized my mentor. Tragedy serves to ground us, to let us reflect and potentially redirect who we are. Sometimes that can be for good, sometimes for bad… and it’s impossible to control.

    It’s similar to a phrase of mine I readily share with those who struggle in my class. Failure is our greatest strength. It forces us to stop and reflect, analyzing who we are and what we have done. This allows us to grow farther beyond what we otherwise would have been. From failure arises true greatness.

    In some respects you could transpose tragedy for failure and derive the same reason. One singular moment cannot change nor define who we are, but merely work to refocus our being. In the moment we are united, but as a whole it strengths our own beliefs and desires.

    And perhaps that’s what all of that bickering is really about.

  22. Jeff, I think you offer an interesting perspective on our current media culture, especially in the US. We are constantly bombarded by the 24 hour news cycle; whether by choice or what we are offered by the various media conglomerates.

    With the advent of social media, high-speed-internet with streaming video, and multitudes of options available to the everyday media consumer, we have made ourselves victims of our own selfish desires of controversy, adversity, and intrigue. Twenty years ago, we were limited to reading newspapers, magazines, and other time-delayed news cycles. We, as consumers, now have the ability to participate in our own daily, even hourly, news events in near-real-time. Our interest is peaked so long as the subject matter is popular, until another event takes precedence.

    The good news is that our ability to immediately communicate in tragedies such as this expand the scope and breadth of knowledge and awareness of major situations such as the Oklahoma tornadoes. And while the volume of time may be lessened, the intensity of awareness is multiplied ten-fold.

  23. Tragedy pulls at heartstrings. If ever there is compassion or empathy tragedy brings it out. We as people persecute to create victims so why not glue ourselves to images that evoke those same emotions. But, we come to a point….have you ever noticed at a funeral? People will share story after story…crying, grieving, etc…then all of a sudden someone says something and everyone erupts in laughter? A person can only grieve, only hurt, only suffer so long. At some point, a person has to take a break whether my medicating, self soothing, or some other release….but a break is taken. In our short term society that is enough to move on and forget. Has New Orleans really ever been totally cleaned and rebuilt? Or have we forgotten? Did oil spills ever get cleaned up? Sadly, we never ask. I never watch the news. Ever. I can change, fix or directly influence any of it. I’m not naieve to it but I chose to pray and send love and make differences where I can rather than suffer helplessly where I can’t, glued and watching carnage of people’s lives.

  24. As always, Jeff made some very valid points. Unfortunately, it seems to take something bad those examples to bring everyone together. It’s truly hard to give an answer to your question but here’s a try.

    Things are going to happen. However, we cannot dwell on these things forever because we may not be directly affected. We will mourn for a week or two, but eventually we have to keep moving on with our lives because what’s done is done. The best thing I try to do is just to be nice to every person I meet each day. We don’t know when our last day will be so I do this so I can feel good about myself.

    Everyone is so occupied with their own lives that we can’t always think of the bad times for others. We tend to care when something bad happens, like all of the examples you mentioned. I wish I had an answer. I fall into the same category as carrying on with my regular life. It’s nothing against the families that are affected by tragedy, it’s just be trying to return to normal.

    It’s kind of like war in a sense. When U.S. troops are in battle, Americans go on with their normal lives and we sometimes forget that there is an actual war going on.

    We can’t mourn forever. At some point, we have to carry on.

  25. Thanks to everyone who has left comments. I’m honestly so grateful that so many people responded in a thoughtful and insightful way.

    You guys rock! Looking forward to more conversation to come.

  26. The reason is called the Gazelle theory. If there are enought of us the lion will not get me. So the rest of the gazelles go along fat dumb and happy. Then the lion gets one of them.They all look around and say weel it was not me. That is how we as humans react. If it did not happen to me it did not happen.Sad but true

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