Just remember this: Be Kind

The Brunson children. All photos from Alma Brunson's Facebook page.

The Brunson children. All photos from Alma Brunson’s Facebook page.

The world changes – for good and bad.

That is especially true in the world of social media. It just often seems as if the bad is easier to see and lasts longer in our collective memory.

First, the Bad

When we worked together a decade ago, Eric Larsen was a young and talented sportswriter with a great sense of humor. In the years since then, he has distinguished himself as an assistant city editor, city editor and as the content strategist at The Coloradoan in Fort Collins. He appears to still have a sense of humor and a strong spirit.

Saturday, he wrote the following on his Facebook page:

Another solid Saturday shift manning the Coloradoan’s social media while being called a lazy, untrustworthy hack for the better part of eight hours reminds me of two things:

  1. People be angry. About everything. Especially on Facebook. Apparently, our national pastime has become flaming the local media/government/sports franchise while at the same time looking at adorable pictures of our nieces and nephews (SOOO CUTE, OMG!). I read earlier that the subreddit for the video game “No Man’s Sky” was deleted after its moderator called it a “hate-filled wastehole.” I’m all for civil discourse, but it seems we’ve lost track of the civil part of the equation.
  2. Our web producers are rock stars to sit through this on a daily basis. We ask a lot out of them, often forgetting that they’ll be the subject of instant vitriol should they dangle a participle. I’ve been doing this for 13 years and there’s still no amount of criticism that just rolls off my back. We take this to heart because we care about the work we do. Sometimes, all you can do is take a deep breath and move forward.

Oh, and a bonus thing!

  1. Be kind to everyone. Seriously. Hold a door for someone tonight. Send an old friend a text “just because.” It’s bound to make you feel better than pushing send on the next nastygram, right?

When I read that, I immediately thought: Man, I’m so happy I don’t have to deal with crap like that anymore.

But then, I gave it a second thought – a thought that turned to Micaela Brunson; her parents and my friends, Alma and Brian Brunson; and the rest of their family. For reasons that may be never fully understood, Micaela took her life on November 14 at her family’s home. She was 16.

Now, the Good

Micaela Brunson
Micaela Brunson

Back in my newspaper days, the newspapers for which I worked typically only reported on suicides if the person who died was well known or chose to die in a very public way. Using those standards, Micaela’s death likely would have garnered no news coverage other than her obituary. Coincidentally, that’s how Micaela’s death was handled by the local newspaper, so perhaps it still operates under those old standards.

If so, it’s understandable, but still too bad. Not that it matters, because it demonstrates one of the ways social media has claimed some of the relevance that newspapers used to monopolize in their communities.

News of Micaela’s death was spread far and wide on Facebook. More than 1,500 people attended her memorial service, which was recorded and has been viewed online more than 3,000 times. A gofundme.com account set up by Danelle Much, a friend of the Brunson family, has so far raised more than $15,000 in memory of Micaela.

Alma and Brian Brunson
Alma and Brian Brunson

Earlier, I referred to Alma and Brian as my friends. It’s an honor to be able to say so. They dressed up as Fred and Wilma Flintsone for the costume party we held at Halloween for my 50th birthday. Alma is one of the funniest people I have ever known. Brian is a big, strong, sort of stoic guy. But if you ever needed someone to have your back, he would be a great choice. He is not a social media guy. Doesn’t even have a Facebook page. But when he speaks, his words mean something and he used his pastor’s Facebook page the other day to thank those who have helped his family. He wrote:

Putting the gratitude of our family for our community, friends and family into words seems an impossible task. In a time where our family is facing the biggest trial we have ever experienced, we have not for a moment had to face it alone. God richly blessed us with Micaela’s life, and in her loss we are reminded of the bountiful blessings our family has in the communities that surround us. We have profoundly experienced the power of prayer these past few weeks and ask for continued thoughts and prayers as we begin to heal as a family and community.

 Wrapping This Up

Back in the good, old days, I wrote or edited far more stories than I care to remember about people who died too early, sometimes in unspeakable ways. None of those stories did a better job of conveying a sense of those lives and the grief with which their friends and family were left to struggle than what I have read and watched about Micaela and her family, thanks to social media.

A story Alma told me Sunday really sums it up. “Today at lunch our waitress was wearing one of Micaela’s bracelets. It really made me smile,” she said. “We will continue for many years to see her light shine on.”

Many of us may spend far too much time on social media shouting about things we don’t like or trolling those with whom we disagree. But social media can also help accomplish a lot of good. I’ve seen it happen, thanks to the life of a 16-year-old girl, the rest of her family and the community she called home.

I suspect good and bad will continue to wrestle inside of us when it comes to how we live and what we put out in the world via social media. But my old colleague, Eric, is absolutely right about being kind to everyone. Just imagine how much better the world would be if we all tried harder to just be kind. And I’m pretty sure that’s what Micaela would have wanted. If nothing else, do it for her.


5 thoughts on “Just remember this: Be Kind

  • Thanks for this, Chris. Be kind must be our motto. I’ve also been thinking a lot a lot about local media recently. Micaela’s death and that amazing memorial service (1500 people!) are by far the most impactful thing to happen here in Muscatine this month. However, there was not a single mention in the local paper. I know the old rules which explain why, but those old rules feel wrong. If the Journal is to have any relevance in this community, there simply must be a way for them to join the conversation on these kind of events. A well written, thoughtful story about the Brunsons and what has happened around them and the way they have dealt with this (and the way the school and the community dealt with it) could win awards, make careers, and (more importantly) help so many people. After the election and in this so called “post-truth” environment and the rise of social media, we need a whole new set of rules of engagement for media, but I haven’t seen anyone lay out the map for what this would look like.

    • Thanks, Keith. Solid points. The hardest stories I wrote or assigned involved talking to grieving parents. Most reporters I knew hated doing it.

      I wish the Journal well, but it missed a leadership opportunity here. Just think of the things that get covered routinely and don’t involve 1,500 people.

  • Chris…maybe the Journal will see your post and belatedly try to correct what they missed out on. Tho I don’t know this family, I thank you for writing about this young girl and the community’s support for her family. I would count it a privilege had I known them.

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