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The Minimalists
The Minimalists are Emmy-nominated Netflix stars and New York Times–bestselling authors Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. Alongside their podcast cohost, T.K. Coleman, this simple-living trio helps millions of people eliminate clutter and live meaningfully with less. Learn More.

After the Tragedy

Yesterday, the morning after the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris, I posted the following quote on my personal Instagram account:

In light of the Paris tragedy, I’m reminded of Anthony Jeselnik’s uncomfortable but honest commentary on Internet “sadness.” To paraphrase Jeselnik: “When something horrible happens, everybody runs to social media and writes the exact same thing: ‘My thoughts and prayers are with the victims.’ Do you know what that’s worth? Nothing. Less than nothing. You aren’t giving any of your time, your money, or even your compassion. All you’re saying is, ‘Don’t forget about me today.’” Thus, let’s do more than post a stock photo of a peace sign on social media. Let’s find ways to contribute beyond ourselves.

The positive comments on this post were numerous, but there was also a spattering of fake outrage, as well as some crude personal attacks and even one potential death threat (which I deleted).

Some people missed the point entirely: they seemed to take my post as a personal assault, as if I were judging them for their social media postings. But of course I wasn’t, because I know better: I understand that judgment is but a mirror reflecting the insecurities of the person who’s doing the judging. Besides, I don’t give a damn about an Internet troll’s hurt feelings; I’m concerned about the well-being of the victims. And so, rather than judge the comment-thread crusaders, I wanted to emphasize that we must do more than exercise our Twitter fingers: a hashtag and a photo alone will not solve the problem, and they can be dangerous because they ape the form of real action.

If you want to effectively contribute after a tragedy, here are a few options:

Money. If you can afford it, donate to charities that are helping the victims. Even a couple bucks makes a difference.

Resources. Our most precious resources are our time, our attention, our influence, and our creativity—all of which, when done well, can prove even more beneficial than charitable donations. Here’s an idea: find a handful of friends, coworkers, or members of your community and have a discussion about how you might use these resources to collectively contribute—not only for this tragedy, but to the everyday world around you. You’ll be amazed by how much a small group of compassionate people can uncover. Then, whatever you decide, work together to take action.

Ultimately, caring is a verb: real love and support and understanding means we are concerned enough to express it through our actions. So, sure, social media can be a good first step, as long as it’s just that—a first step. Once we’ve expressed our grief and shown our solidarity, we must then do something about it—because if we don’t, then all we’re left with are well-meaning but solipsistic status updates.