Virginia Tech and the Globalisation of Tragedy

On Tuesday morning I attended a Flinders’ Graduation Ceremony. While we were waiting to file into the hall, I found myself in conversation with actress and TV presenter Noni Hazelhurst, who was to receive an honourary doctorate. Immediately we fell into discussion about the tragedy at Virginia Tech, fresh in the news that morning. “Would there be an acknowledgement of it in the ceremony, a moment of recognition?” she asked, glancing at my chaplain’s badge. “I will ask the Chancellor”, I replied and excused myself to do the same.

No there would not.

It occurs to me that, particularly since “September 11”, we are confronted with perhaps a new phenomenon: the globalisation of tragedy.
Bad news we’ve always had. Most of us can remember what we were doing, and where we were, when we heard that Kennedy was shot. But that was radio. Now we are there “live” on TV!

Of course, we can always “turn it off”!
When I was teaching in a Juvenile Detention Centre I remember deciding not to read the papers or listen to the news. The emotional strain of being ‘inside’ was enough! I shouldn’t have been surprised to eventually discover that most of my colleagues had adopted the some emotionally-protective strategy!
We may need to ‘go bush’ sometimes to avoid desensitisation by the incessant parade of “bad news”.

Yet we are all connected as global citizens and affected by local, national or overseas events, to some extent, whether they be celebratory or tragic. When the butterfly flaps its wings…!

The teacher is faced with this dilemma every morning – to take notice of the children and take them into account, leaving the lesson plan behind, if need be, or sail right on regardless. The skillful teacher,however, adapts, and uses what is at hand to achieve a bigger goal that subsumes the immediate.

So, for me, I am asking the question, how can we adapt to the globalisation of tragedy in a way that increases our human capacity for care, understanding, forgiveness and peacemaking? Can we face evil and not be diminished by it?

In response to the events at Virginia Tech the following statement from the chaplains was sent to the International Student Support Unit for transmission to the American students at Flinders:

We were shocked, as you probably were too, to hear the news of the horrific events at Virginia Tech. How sad that the lives of so many students were taken so violently from them in the course of their normal student life, at lectures. We know that the pain and anguish of such violence transfers immediately to families, friends, colleagues and all those directly connected. We know that ultimately that grief extends to all of us. We are all connected as human persons in the global village.
But we are also saddened that a student could be so isolated, so alone, that he chose to take those lives with him.

Such tragedies present us with deep questions about ourselves and the quality of our own friendships.

The chaplains encourage us to use this occasion to deepen our human understanding, to renew friendships and to recommit ourselves to non-violence and peace building. Talk about this with your friends. If you would like, leave a comment:
go to and click on ‘comments’ at the end of the post, “Virginia Tech”.
Also, a “Wall” is being constructed on the religious centre website where comments will be posted (in the cracks!)

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