How to Talk About Tragedies Without Being Tone Deaf

It’s not an exaggeration to say that the entire world has been rocked by recent events in Nice, Baton Rouge, Dallas, St. Paul, Orlando, and likely many more that never made front page news. People are scared and in mourning, even those of us completely disconnected – both geographically and personally – from the tragedies.


In fact, it’s not uncommon to be shaken up by something completely removed from yourself. When we hear of someone suffering, it’s human nature to put ourselves in their shoes. For that reason, it has become common to publicly express sympathy, prayers, or solidarity for victims of these current events.


There are helpful and less-helpful ways to comment on these very public tragedies, however. In the past several weeks, I’ve seen excellent examples of both ends of the spectrum, and the information below will help you keep from appearing tone deaf if you, too, want to speak up and say something about someone else’s tragedy.


Don’t reach for a way you can “relate.”

You may have suffered tragedy in your own life. You may be marginalized. You may have lost a loved one. But we aren’t talking about you right now. Unless your story is nearly-identical to the story in the news, and you have firsthand knowledge of what is happening based on serving as a leader/researcher/volunteer in such situations, etc., then your statements will be perceived as trying to steal the spotlight. No one likes an emotional hijacker.


Learn from this person’s mistake:

An acquaintance recently said: “I, too, know what it’s like to be treated like an “other” because when I lived in Country X as a blonde, people always stopped me to touch MY hair.”* (statements and identifying information have been changed to protect the tone deaf)

Her “other-ing” cannot be compared to the marginalization being discussed in the news. She can’t relate, and she shouldn’t have tried.


Don’t include inappropriate segues.

At the very least, create a separate post for pictures of your daily life and commentary about current events. Juxtaposed over pictures of your happy, healthy kids at the swimming pool, your thoughts about a stranger’s death may not feel authentic.


Learn from this person’s mistake:

Bloggers and Instagrammers are notoriously poor at this. One fashion blogger recently wrote: “Praying for the people of Paris” (except she meant Nice) as the caption on a picture of her smiling face holding a designer purse. The post also included links to where you could buy her purse and other accessories. Holy tone deafness, Batman! Your thoughts and prayers are appropriate, so long as you let them have their own space.


Don’t propose solutions (unless you are involved)

As with many situations, it’s easy for those of us on the outside to say what “should” be done. Making uninformed suggestions can be off-putting to the people who are actually on-the-ground, involved in finding solutions. You might be suggesting something that has tried and failed. Or something overly simplistic, considering factors of which you’re not aware.


Learn from this person’s mistake:

The phrase “all this could be avoided if we just love one another,” appeared on my social media feed last week. A “lack of love” is a radical oversimplification of a complicate, systemic issue that most of us don’t understand. Feeling like we’re contributing to solving a problem makes people feel better, but if you aren’t informed, your solutions are unlikely to help.



Expressing your feelings on current events can be great. It can help you feel more connected to others who feel the same way. It can start a dialogue. It can bring awareness to an issue.  It can give you an outlet to work through your thoughts. But if it’s done poorly, it can make you appear tone deaf to the people at the center of the tragedy. Learn from the mistakes of others and don’t be that person!


Author’s Note as a survivor of several personal tragedies: Be aware that these guidelines are NOT intended to guide how you post about your personal struggles. No one should be judging you about what you say when it’s your own misfortune (block those jerks if they do!) This is meant for those of us who are experiencing these current events as outsiders, and feel moved to comment.