Of Tragedies and Teddy Bears

I’m in Hong Kong this week at the annual Toy Fair, and in addition to talking toys my friends and colleagues from around the world, like everyone back home, is talking about the tragic shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords and several others unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. While this is clearly the work of a crazy person, it happens against the backdrop of angry, divisive speech that includes violent imagery and seeming hatred against anyone who doesn’t agree with whatever point of view. People are asking me as an American why, and I’m afraid I have no answer.

Yet what I’ve noticed in the pictures of the makeshift memorials in Tuscson is that there are Teddy Bears everywhere. And it’s not just there. Whenever a tragedy happens, these tributes seem to spring up spontaneously, and there are always stuffed animals. A few years ago, I attended a funeral for someone in my extended family, which happened to be in the same Georgia cemetery where Jon Benet Ramsey is buried. On her grave, an unknown visitor had left a Care Bear.

It seems that when these tragedies happen, our nation puts aside its dissension and mourns together. In this unpredictable and sometimes terrifying world, we seek comfort where we can find it, and that finds expression in a cuddly friend. Perhaps it reminds of us when we truly felt safe and nurtured, that nothing could harm us. Perhaps clinging to a Teddy Bear gave a feeling of safety and consistency in a world that we were learning could be painful. When confronted with horrors beyond our imagining and beyond our control, we give a stuffed animal to express our hope that things will heal, that hearts will mend, that we’ll get through it and that life will go on.

While it’s incorrect to blame the shooting tragedy in Tuscon on the level of violent discourse in the country, I can’t help wondering why we have to wait for a tragedy to find our compassion, to open our hearts and put aside differences.

Can we use this terrible experience to reconsider the way we treat one another in this country and in our individual lives? If we can, perhaps there is something positive out of this for the longer term.

If we handed out more Teddy Bears—whether actual or in the spirit of our discourse—and exhibited a little more compassion for everyone we encounter, particularly when we don’t agree, then perhaps we’d be closer to having more of the comfort those Teddy Bears represent.

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