What happened in Vegas last night is not staying in Vegas.
Details are still foggy and the motives are unclear. The death and injury tolls have continued to climb, and questions are more numerous than answers.
The obvious responses are already being trotted out – gun control, terrorism, stop the hate, etc.. But with few answers, the most genuine response is probably “what the hell is going on?!”
What is going on in our country? What is going on in our world?
The barrage of natural disasters lately is inexplicable, but we don’t expect to understand “Acts of God” like these. We do, however, expect to be able to understand people.
Yet if we look around of late, we seem to be understanding each other with decreasing frequency. We disagree on fundamentals, and we have an incredibly hard time speaking to others who don’t see things the way we do. Why is that? How is it that as we continue to progress as a species - as our technology develops at an ever-increasing pace, as we find cures to life-threatening diseases and solutions to problems that stumped and threatened our ancestors, as we mature as a global civilization and create systems that are able to unite and uplift people across the globe – how is it that we simultaneously find ourselves in this moment of increasing vitriol, division, and inexplicable violence?
We might have thought that a more connected and technologically advanced planet would lead to a more peaceful and collaborative lifestyle for all of us. But while it is clearly true that more people worldwide are exposed to greater opportunity, freedom, independence, and comfort, it is also clear that our hopes of an elegant utopia are still more a figment of our yearning than a reflection of our reality.
And this ought to give us pause. Not just long enough to mourn the victims; not just long enough to blame the perpetrator and rail at all of those who we consider to have abetted, enabled, or encouraged him; not just long enough to rue the state of the world and console ourselves with the cop out that life sucks or none of it makes sense. We ought to pause a bit longer than ordinary to really consider what the hell is going on.
How many acts of violence will it take before we stop and say enough is enough? Where is that tipping point where people refuse to continue in this trajectory and band together to make a genuine difference? And what would that look like? An earnest commitment on the part of millions of us to make a significant change in the status quo – how would that manifest itself?
And perhaps most practically, what can each of us really do in the face of such a pervasive culture of conflict where discourse is so dysfunctional and anger is so easily triggered?
What we need at this moment, more than ever, is a recommitment to the values of respect, communal responsibility, and common courtesy. While the problems we face as a society are global and complex, the first and most important step in addressing them is very personal and simple. When each of will take responsibility for our words and our actions, when we will commit to tempering our emotions and treating one another with decency and empathy, then we will begin to find ways to work through our disagreements and discover common ground.
What happened in Vegas last night must not stay in Vegas. It must inspire us around the country to reconsider our attitudes toward, and our treatment of, those with whom we interact, whether in the workplace, in our homes, on the internet, or any venue in which we find ourselves.
Perhaps we can begin with a simple pledge (which one is free to make standing, kneeling, sitting, or in whatever position one prefers):
I pledge to communicate with respect and civility with those I encounter whether they share my views or see the world differently. I will do my best to recognize our commonality and to admit that I am no more perfect or immune to error than any other. I will try to maximize my patience and minimize my aggression. I will work to hear other perspectives and offer my own in a spirit of collaboration and mutual benefit. I will not allow our society to continue be torn apart, and I will work to find opportunities for collaboration and reconciliation.
Please feel free to share this pledge if you agree, to suggest changes or additions if you like, or to provide other ideas of how to best respond to last night’s events in Vegas.