With the strength of compassion

February 9, 2015

Image Source: Toby Zema @theheraldsun, 1:30pm 18/12/14

What makes us feel compassion?

How do we hold on to that, in the face of fear?

In the last year, we in Australia have found ourselves once again confronted with terrorism, and all of the hatred and fear that brings.

Certainly, there has been tension, as we wait for the expected backlash, the vengeance to pour out onto the streets, on to our screens or into our conversations.  But instead of retaliation, what we’re seeing is a more compassionate response.  There is a desire to reach out and connect with our community. To connect with those we believe share our values as we search for what we have to hold on that feels true and strong and human.

During the Sydney Seige, the hashtag #illridewithyou became viral, a form of hashtag activism.  This came through again in response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks in the form of the cartoons drawn, the #jesuischarlie hashtag, the #jesuisahmed hashtag.

Image source: Daily Life, "#Illridewithyou continues trending worldwide, highlighting support for Muslim Australians" by Rob Moran

Although it seems odd to search for the positives when others have lost their lives to such anger, it’s interesting, and heartening to witness a shift away from a mindset that fights hatred with more hatred. 

But what is the value of this? Does the viral nature of these messages hold a true mirror up to a more compassionate society?  When social media so often feels like a superficial and narcissistic medium, it’s difficult to believe it leaves any tangible or lasting impression on our attitudes to ‘real life’. 

A month has passed since the siege, and we have to wonder, have we done anything positive with how far reaching this sentiment was? Has anything stuck?

An attack on culture

Of course, terrorism is not new. But when the planes hit the Twin Towers, it well and truly came into our homes.  At least in recent memory, this was the first time that our corporate and pop culture has been challenged. And in an age before social media – the idea that we could see the tragic event unfold so instantaneously from the other side of the world represented such a stark difference from how we normally perceived violent events off shore. It felt closer and we were outraged.

It's safe to say that the collective response, and the ways in which we choose to remember it – are representative of another, perhaps more negative mindset. ‘Power’ shifted from smoking guns, to battles of mindsets.

Image Source: FastCo.Create, "Banksy Tribute to Charlie Hebdo not Actually Banksy, but Still Resonates" by Joe Berkowitz

Random, but not isolated

The current threat is different and it definitely feels different.  It’s on our shores and it’s coming from within the folds of our society.  In this, there is a realisation that what we’re fighting feels difficult to grasp in the most literal, tangible sense. 

And what we’re fighting against is not some specific ideological challenge, but rather against a hatred of our own ideals – of our ways of living and all that we hold dear such as freedom of expression, freedom from the threat of execution, freedom to feel safe in public spaces… These are highly symbolic attacks on the values we hold. 

Importantly these attacks are not on the institutions, which may or may not represent our culture, but they are on the culture itself – in our cafés, on our streets.  The next target is impossible to predict. This is a terrifying thought, but it necessarily forces us to feel compassion and empathy – because it could’ve been me.


Our ideals have not been challenged so strongly and so visibly for a very long time.  To connect with community necessarily requires introspection – what is it that connects us?  And so we feel a need to do something, to reach out for what makes us human.  Social media has been instrumental in the current climate by broadcasting clear messages of hope, compassion and combined strength.

Yes it seems vapid and impermanent and almost insufficient in the face of fear – but importantly, it reflects our need to share and connect with a wider audience – to know there’s an army of compassionate souls out there, in a moment of helplessness.