I was struck by a tricky modern dilemma this morning. My Facebook friends (thankfully many of whom are real life people who I can actually talk to, you know, face-to-face) started changing their profile pictures. Back.
Within hours of the terrible events in Paris, Facebook profiles and Twitter accounts started turning red, white and blue. It was a beautiful stream of colour and in turn, symbolic support for a nation that were in the midst of a catastrophe from an online community who could only sit and watch it unfold.
We were encouraged by Facebook themselves to place the French flag overlay, over ourselves with a handily provided gadget. There was implied support, implied solidarity, implied prayer. Others chose a French themed profile -perhaps a photo they took on a trip to France, or an image of one of the world’s landmarks lit up.
Monday marked the last day of national mourning and on Tuesday, Parisians tried to go back to work. Back to school. But you can’t go back and make it better.
No more than my profile picture on Facebook being able to act as a visual-Band-Aid to those who are hurt and grieving, can my actions on Tuesday, or Wednesday, with their routine normality turn the clock back. We can’t erase what has happened and yet at some point it became ok to change our profile pictures back to what they were before. No one prompted this. No-one said it was ok. But I want to be able to justify this action, more so than switching it ‘French’ in the first place.
With every suicide bomb, with every bullet, with every fist-fight over who is better, truer and purer in this world in some twisted attempt to enter whatever it is that happens next, we take a step forward into chaos. We demand that ‘something is done’ when all we are often willing to do ourselves is throw money and rhetoric at the issue and hope deep down that it doesn’t darken our door. Who signed up and joined the military this week? Who volunteered to help loved ones connect with those they can’t find? Who has put themselves forward for election, to make sure they are the kind of politician they want to see making the tough decisions?
We try so hard to connect with the act of changing our picture to one that makes us fit with the people in the world that are good, so we don’t stand out as the rapidly emerging ‘other’. And there it is. The line is drawn and we are ‘us’ and ‘them’.
I’m not sure I want it to be a case of ‘Us’ Vs. ‘Them’. I’m pretty sure that in this war of ideology and faith it just isn’t that simple. So today I turned by profile back, in full knowledge that it will, in all likelihood, have to change again.