November 27, 2015

An Open Letter of Reply: Who Did We Change our Facebook Photo for?

french flag

To the author,

It was with a sense of sadness that I read your article Why I’m Not Turning My Facebook Photo Blue, White & Red. At best I found the article patronising, at worst I felt you misjudged the sentiment of an authentic, compassionate movement which allowed thousands around the world the opportunity to simply and eloquently express their overwhelming grief at a time when words alone failed to describe our collective despair.

I respect your decision not to change your photo, that is your choice and thankfully we’re lucky enough to live in countries where we enjoy the luxury of expressing and debating different opinions openly.

You ask, ‘why do we change our photos, really?’ You also asked for us to pause for a moment to reflect on what the act of changing a simple photo means.

Here then, after pausing for reflection, is what it means to me and to thousands like me. I hope that in some of these words you may begin to understand and believe that hope can be found in the simplest of gestures.

We change it for the young lovers gunned down for enjoying a night of romance in a beautiful city. We change it for the father who carried his young son to safety, not knowing whether either would live. We change it for the pregnant young woman who clung frantically from a ledge, desperate to protect her unborn child. We change it for the man stumbling out onto the street, his shirt soaked in blood, his life ripped apart.

Yes we change it to show solidarity but the sentiment runs deeper.

It is visceral, haunting, excruciating.

We change it because the diners at Le Petit Cambodge could have been our mother, our brother, our girlfriend or partner. We change it because they never stood a chance.

Their blood flowed on the pavements of Paris yet they had not donned uniforms nor armed themselves for battle. On a cool, calm night in Paris, war was the furthest thing from their minds. Their only crime was to live life as it is should be lived—free and with joy. We change it for them.

You ask, ‘what does it change?’

It changes everything.

It says we will stand up when we’re told to live in fear. It says that there is hope. It says that we will fight for our way of life, the right to live, to love, to revel in the simple thrill of being alive. We will not be cowed by a fanatical minority. It says that hate can’t, that it won’t, win.

It says that we’re all in this together. It reminds us that for all of our differences, we’re all very much the same, with similar hopes and dreams and worries. It says that we share in the sorrow of loss but also that we share in the resolve  to not give in to despair.

We change it knowing that the altruism shown by #PorteOuverte, the lines of blood donors and the help of those throughout the city have had an impact. We change it knowing that many risked their lives to help, that while the worst of human nature was so grotesquely on display, it was outshone by selfless acts of valour and kindness. We may not have been able to personally save a life, but we can show them we care, that we appreciate, value and honour their heroism.

So no, for thousands it was not a ‘quickie photo change’—it meant a great deal.

Yes, it felt like “the right thing to do” and why should there be any shame in that? It gave expression to piercing grief and soothed the inconsolable with a message of empathy. To judge those changing a photo only through the eyes of your own social media experience is to pity their choice of expression and their sense of loss, without first trying to more clearly understand their sentiment.

Nelson Mandela once said: “Our human compassion binds us the one to the other—not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.”

We changed our pictures because we are human and because when the world seems at its darkness, even the smallest act of compassion can bring salvation.




Why I’m Not Turning My Facebook Photo Blue, White & Red.


Author: Simon Revington

Editor: Caitlin Oriel

Image: H. Michael Karshis/Flickr

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