When a city has been torn apart, what writing expresses feelings best?

How do you write from the heart about a calamity – the Brussels Attacks – that has just stunned you into shock and silence?
HTWB Belgian flagYesterday’s tragedy in Brussels, Belgium – coming just over 4 months after the even more hideous atrocities 200 miles away in Paris – has resulted in a deluge of words written by journalists and their editors, mostly capitalising on the shock-horror elements that sell newspapers and please online advertisers.

But ironically, these words fail to express what the average person really feels. Here’s why.

Words that the public expects, as long as they don’t point accusing fingers in unfavourable directions

Journalists, bless them, are used to writing about murder, death, mass destruction, hideous injuries, and the other extremes of human nature.

They’re always careful to be politically correct and refer to “the so-called Islamic State” and “Islamic Extremists,” avoiding any terminology that will stir up indignant protests among the law-abiding distant cousins of those monsters who kill and maim.

It may seem ironic, but it’s on occasions like these that journalists really can let rip and use words that express what most of us are thinking.

Even I’m guilty of that, having been a journalist myself.

But where we really can pick up on the human awfulness of terrorist acts like this, is not from the excitable writings of journalists: it’s from “members of the public” who, today, can express their thoughts freely across social media.

The words that really say it all, are dramatically simple

Here are some examples of the uncluttered expressions of feeling I saw written on social media yesterday. In their simplicity, you can feel even more strongly how badly affected these individuals have been by what has happened.

No gory adjectives, no long words, no emotional outbursts; just shock, anger and sorrow. For example:

What is happening with our world? Thoughts with those affected by today’s atrocities

I don’t even know what to say anymore

Find it disgusting how people can go out there and blow them self up and kill innocent people how heartless can you be

I was up several times in the middle of the night nursing Austin…& totally disturbed by the news of what happened in

Ummmmmm has any Muslim leader came out and spoke against the ??!!………*waits* …no? Nothing? Ok.

My mother is found in Flanders. Still no news of my father. On a retrouvé ma mère, elle est hospitalisée, toujours pas de nouvelles de mon père, André Adam.

People were running over others that had fallen, I couldn’t breathe. I can’t believe I’m alive.

A local hotel brought out towels and sheets for rudimentary dressage. About 10 or 15 minutes later paramedics arrived, police cordoned the area and the press were pushed back. There were lots of shocked bystanders in tears.

It’s eerily quiet now. Roads are shut off. The frenzy of police cars has now calmed.

My prayers are with you.

Seeing the world support other countries at times like this is what makes me happy

my heart sank, my prayers are out for everyone affected

[ctt title=”In simple words, there often is much greater depth … Suzan St Maur” tweet=”In simple words, there often is much greater depth … Suzan St Maur” coverup=”0f2_U”]

Especially in circumstances like these, simple words – simple language, simple writing – say so much more than eloquence.

I must issue a disclaimer here: although I cringe every time there are terrorist atrocities anywhere in the world, this one has affected me – selfishly – more than most, as my late mother was Belgian and I still have relatives living in and near Brussels.

Thankfully they are safe, but they are devastated, as I am.

How do you feel about the words used to describe people’s reactions to the #BrusselsAttacks?

Please share: not only about our reaction to a tragedy like this, but also through what it can teach us about the power of simplicity in our writing…





  1. Here in Toronto there were three “huge and newsworthy” events – the Brussels bombings, the federal budget and the death of our former mayor Rob Ford. It was hard to know what to focus on.

    Reporters on local TV stations interviewed people on the street on their thoughts about Rob Ford. As you said, that’s the best way to go – simple, few words, their own experiences. (BTW he died of a rare form of cancer just 18 months after its diagnosis. He was only 46. Sleep peacefully Rob.)