There used to be a time not too long ago when tragedies like the mass shooting in Parkland would simply leave us sad and stunned.
Today, we are growing so sickeningly accustomed to them that they are no longer unexpected, and rather than sad, they make many of us angry. Really angry.
Such tragedies are becoming so frequent, and anger is so high-pitched and ubiquitous, that one might begin to wonder whether it’s tragedy that leads to anger or anger that leads to tragedy. It’s one of those vicious cycles perhaps. It certainly is vicious.
We’re furious! We want to string somebody up. We need someone , something to blame. It comforts us to think that THIS is the culprit, and if we just take care of THIS, then these tragedies will end and we can get back to being happy and safe again.
I have no interest in weighing in on what is or isn’t to blame for these mass shootings. I have my opinions, and I believe there are some fairly obvious things we could do to avert such disasters, but I’m no authority on the subject. The last thing we need is another non-expert spouting figures he’s read on facebook and insisting he’s an expert. (I know that, because I do it plenty!)
Of course, not weighing in will earn me no less ire than if I had. I’m evidently part of the problem if I’m not standing up against it. Never mind the fact that I’m not really certain what the problem or the solution is – that shouldn’t stop me from being vehement and insistent and fed up, and most of all, really pissed off.
If I’m not pissed off, I’m self-absorbed and complacent. I don’t care enough about others’ pain to stand up and do anything about it. I’m too privileged and callous to get really riled up. I should be ashamed of myself.
So I have a choice to make: Anger or shame.
Sad, confused, scared – I may be feeling those emotions, but those are not the appropriate reactions in this time and place. Those emotions are weak and limp. They will not solve anything or save anyone; they may be honest and genuine expressions, but that ‘s not the image of strength and success and stability that we’re supposed to project on our news feed; they will not garner you followers, or likes, or shares - you know, those essentials we must amass on a daily basis in order to be truly fulfilled.
Anger or shame - those are your choices. And don't worry, there's plenty of those on the market today.
And plenty of guns.
Plenty of angry, shamed people running around with access to plenty of lethal tactical weapons!
Here’s a study I’d like to see an expert perform: is there a correspondence between the rise of social media, the proliferation of “news” outlets which specialize in political and social commentary, and the increase in incidence of mass shootings? I would bet – though again I’m no expert – that there is.
With pundits from both sides of the aisle squawking their fervent opinions at us 24/7, and with our ability to vent our raw and unfiltered emotions to a faceless audience whenever we feel the urge, is it not possible that we we are collectively feeding a fire that is beginning to burn out of control?
Is it possible that while we (quite appropriately) talk about gun control, we should also be talking about self-control? While we discuss the mental health of the perpetrators, should we not also examining and fretting over the failing health of our social discourse?
None of this is intended to accuse or vilify activists and advocates whose passion and commitment should be praised and emulated. But we can all afford to take stock of our tactics and our unintended outcomes. As the comic Irwin Corey once joked, “if we don’t change direction soon, we’ll end up where we’re going.”
Can we look at ourselves and honestly evaluate how we are contributing to the polarization, demonization, and alienation that is making our country a tense and increasingly dangerous place to be? The goal of such an exercise would not be to generate additional shame or blame or anger, but to encourage each of us to step back and admit that we can be less reactive, more reflective and more compassionate.
If we are hoping to reverse the trends and return to a time when mass shootings are infrequent and surprising, then it may be helpful to think not only about the guns, not only about the ones who are pulling the triggers, but about how easily we ourselves are triggered and ignited, and how we might help to deescalate the high tensions in our country and contribute to a more civil and collaborative environment where our children can feel more safe and secure.
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