June 1, 2022

The Burden of Awareness

by Jennifer Kane

The Burden of Awareness

There is a graduation speech by Zander Moricz that’s gone viral for the coded way he discusses sexuality in a place where it’s increasingly not cool to do so.

A line in it really resonated with me…

“The digital advance has given us the gift of … the burden of awareness.”

While Moricz used this phrase to describe his own generation, (which has had a front row seat for an ongoing stream of national and global crises) I think it applies to us all.

We live in unique times, in which we know nearly everything, immediately as it happens. Due to the nature of news and how it spreads, much of what we learn is awful, like a pandemic that has killed millions, racial injustice, climate change, and a never-ending series of mass shootings.

It’s hard to know how to respond to this news and process the grief it brings.

Often we settle for sharing an article, post, or meme about it online with some personal thoughts and take comfort in a community who is just as overwhelmed as we are.

Never-ending thoughts and prayers

However, since the stream of immediate and existential threats and horrors is fairly robust and consistent these days, over time these actions can feel hollow and performative.

It feels like the world is on fire, but all we can really do is acknowledge, “yes, this burns.” We don’t have enough water in our tanks to actually put out any flames.

Deep down, we know the problem will persist, because we see it persist, (sometimes for decades). We know it will take more than just thoughts, prayers, and posts to fix it. So we write a check, attend a march, volunteer, and vote, but even that can feel insufficient.

That’s because we’re also living in a time where we now have visible proof that for every one thing we do or say, there are people in our network doing or saying the exact opposite, (or who think the news is a hoax entirely.) We are drowning in information that graphically illustrates how nuanced, complex, volatile, and deeply-entrenched all these issues are.

A different approach

So what’s an empathic person to do? How do you have your “cake,” (i.e. online community and connection) and eat it too, (i.e. lessen this burden of awareness you carry)?

First, keep showing up. No, you alone are not the spokesperson or savior for all of the world’s problems. But it IS reasonable to choose one or two causes that are most important to you personally and double down on your efforts to work on them. Try to let yourself off the hook for the rest. There are only so many hours in a day.

Second, filter the noise. You’re doing what you can right now. If you are exposed to people who insult that work, unfollow or block them. If you’re exposed to people who make you feel guilty because you’re not doing other work, unfollow or block them too. If you see posts that spread misinformation and conspiracy theories about the work, flag and report them.

Third, hold space for yourself and others. If a child is murdered and you say nothing about it online, we’re not going to all assume it’s because you hate children. It’s OK to go radio silent and just feel sad, angry or scared. And if you see someone who is suffering because breaking news has created a particularly deep wound for them, create a safe space for them to process it instead of trying to problem-solve.

Lastly, don’t take the bait. Resist the urge to engage in online debates or name calling with people who aren’t even in the arena. Remember, we’re living in stressful times and people who don’t have the tools or capacity to understand and process their feelings of fear, grief, and anger will invariably act out instead. Participating in their drama is not a worthy use of your time and talents.

Photo credit: Jose A.Thompson via Unsplash


awareness, Digital well-being, Digital Wellness

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