When tragedy strikes, our need to know keeps humanity alive

Alice Wu says our desire to make sense of a brutal stabbing or a plane's disappearance is part of what moves humanity forward

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 March, 2014, 3:41am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 March, 2014, 6:34am

We're only halfway through March, but it somehow feels much longer than that. Anxious and frustrated, we're trying hard to make sense of two devastating events - the unconscionable and brutal wounding of veteran journalist Kevin Lau Chun-to and the still missing Malaysia Airlines plane. For both, developments are happening fast, but they take us no closer to the truth.

The longer Lau's attackers keep mum and the longer MH370 remains unfound, the longer we're denied the truth. Our need to know goes further than just human curiosity; it's a matter of survival. Human development and progress would not be possible without it. We need to find out why things happen not simply because we need to feel we are in control of our lives, but because humanity propels us to improve - ourselves, our lives, our knowledge, our inventions - and work towards ideals that make us better versions of ourselves than yesterday.

It speaks of an acceptance of our fragility and vulnerability.

Therefore, in the case of the vanishing aircraft, it's natural that we are critical and demand a lot not only of the authorities, rescue operators and international organisations involved in the search, but also of the news media.

The avalanche of information has not necessarily been helpful. At times, pieces of information contradict one another, which does not help to locate the aircraft. We take in each possible explanation, every conspiracy theory, and mull it over. They either inspire hope or doubt. Until we find MH370, there is no end to the mystery.

But while some have taken the news media to task, asking whether they could be sieving through the information better, we should not forget that it is the job of the media to try and provide as many updates as possible in any developing crisis. Not only that, the media must also play a role in pushing investigators to look harder, to look more closely than they've been doing.

This is exactly what the news media have been doing in pushing for authorities to get to the bottom of why Kevin Lau was so brutally attacked. The media voiced the community's demand for the swift apprehension and investigation of those guilty of the crime and delivery of justice.

It's a voice that rightfully calls Lau's attackers, both those who masterminded it and those who carried it out, damnable. It's a voice that expresses our solidarity and our will to protect what we hold dear: life. It's a voice that reaffirms an ideal that we, as members of free society, treasure - press freedom. It's a voice that will not accept a verdict of "we're not ruling anything out" and insists investigators dig deeper.

We're all deeply flawed human beings. And organisations made up by people - governments, law enforcement agencies and the news media - will always be imperfect in carrying out their duties. Being mindful of that fact will keep us sane and anchored and will remove the sometimes detrimental emotions that keep us from making progress in our quest to reach our ideals.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA