Boston Tragedy Deserves More Than a Moment of Silence

Whether it's Boston or some other disaster, we try to solve it with talk, talk and more talk.

Sometimes, I wish we could all just shut up for a little bit.

It is one of life’s great ironies that the events that demand a little bit of silence—like this week’s bombings at the Boston Marathon—are the ones that generate the most sound and fury. Some of the wall-to-wall chatter is necessary, of course: People want to know if they need to take measures to remain safe. Parents want to know if their children avoided harm. We want to know what happened, and why. All of this is natural.

After that, however, so much of the commentary that springs up around horrible events seems to be nothing more than a layer of sound attaching itself to two, three, four other layers of sound. Some of this is simply a commercial instinct—we in the news business know our audiences most eagerly desire our wares during disasters and the playoffs—but some of it, surely, is a high-tech form of whistling past the graveyard, of filling the air with so much sound that we don’t have to completely contemplate what we’ve seen.

But such events deserve our quiet, as well.

We need time not merely to talk about what happened, but to sit in silent, trembling awe of it, as well. We need to ponder the evil that exists in the world. We must consider whether we contribute to the cycles of violence that bring a bomber to our games. We should take time to be reverent, even, in the face of so many people who did things, big or small, to aid blast victims. And eventually, we should show our gratitude to them.

Instead, we’re treated to what appears to be Alycia Lane’s comeback tour.

Instinctively, we know we need the quiet. That’s why we observe moments of silence after tragedies—they exist as windows to the hours of meditation we suspect might help us find balance again after major crises. Nobody ever attempts 15 minutes or an hour of silence for large groups, do they?

Armed with that silence, we might grieve. We might decide that such disasters don’t require overreaction. We might choose to confront evil sadly, but firmly, in keeping with all of our values. We might simply just. not. panic.

The noise that we aim, like a firehose, at our disasters—that noise keeps us from collecting our thoughts. It keeps us from collecting ourselves. It goads us into bad decisions. This, too, appears to be natural.

So I wish we could learn to shut up for a minute, if only to keep even bigger disasters at bay. We never seem, however, to find that minute.