The world watched last week as the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris burned to the ground. Notre Dame, perhaps the most well-known cathedral in the world, was home to holy relics and artistic masterpieces, but it was also a holy place for thousands of Parisians to worship. Although the social media uproar has since died down quite a bit, there are still people across the world posting bright, smiling photos of themselves in front of this destroyed landmark, perhaps with a sad caption or simply an emoji. To all those people: Please stop.
Now don’t get us wrong, it’s devastating to see somewhere you once stood be ravaged by fire, but inserting yourself into a tragedy by posting your own experience takes away from the tragedy itself. For you, this was a vacation spot where you were able to appreciate beautiful architecture and art. For Parisians, especially those who worship in Notre Dame, that was like a home, that was a holy place they revered.
If a friend’s house burned down, you wouldn’t even think of posting a smiling photo in front of their house saying “miss this place so much.” That would be insensitive. So then why is it OK to post that exact same thing in front of someone’s holy place? This isn’t to say you can’t connect with tragedy, and perhaps instead of posting a picture of you in front of it, post a picture of the building, or even of the fire itself, to take yourself out of the experience. However, there are also many other more tangible options for those who want to connect and sympathize with Parisian citizens and Catholics.
Perhaps instead of posting and saying you’re sending thoughts and prayers, you could actually write and send letters to parishioners. Or write into a local or national paper, sharing your thoughts and feelings about the tragedy. This can be used in all situations of public tragedy — instead of posting about your thoughts and prayers when something sad happens, take steps to tangibly share your emotions and mourn with others. If there’s a mass shooting, write to the families of victims; if there’s a devastating natural disaster, send aid and letters of support, or visit and volunteer yourself, if you’re so inclined. There’s so many things you can do to actually help someone suffering a tragedy. Posting on social media seems like the easy way out.
One might ask why, especially in the case of Notre Dame, we aren’t suggesting sending money. The biggest reason is that there are multiple French billionaires who are pledging their money to rebuilding costs, but on top of that, the Vatican Bank (the monetary arm of the Catholic church) had almost $8 billion in assets in 2015, according to CNN Money. In all likelihood, the $20 in your pocket is not going to genuinely help rebuilding costs at all, and there’s no guarantee of where your money will go when you donate through a private site. There are plenty of places that could genuinely use the $20 in your pocket, however — places like Puerto Rico, California, Texas and Flint, Mich., are all experiencing crisis at this very moment. Instead of donating money to rebuild a national monument that isn’t even ours, donate money to help support fellow Americans who have been personally devastated by natural disasters and dangerous living conditions.
Spend your money where its actually needed, rather than across the world, where they have plenty of financial support for their cause, and connect with the tragedy in your own backyard rather than a place you once took a picture of. And be intentional about caring — you can send thoughts and prayers in a 200-character tweet, but that doesn’t rebuild a cathedral, or a house, or someone’s life.