There is clearly something wrong in America. We didn’t need two more mass shootings over the past weekend to convince us of that, but they certainly did shine a glaring spotlight on our defects and instability. Anyone who is unaware of the crisis in this country need only peruse the media headlines in the days and weeks BEFORE the recent shootings, and s/he will find all the evidence needed to conclude that we are a nation at ideological war with itself.
Yet the response to the shootings in El Paso and Dayton testify to a particularly ugly and insidious aspect of our predicament, and that is our reflexive inclination to stoke the fires that are burning us rather than douse them. Anger and blame are the common denominators in these most recent mass-shootings as well as others like them, and the immediate response to them has been a raucous chorus of increasing anger and blame.
There are surely important conversations to be had about gun control, mental health, violent extremism, racism, media and video-game violence, dignity of leadership, the void of spirituality in our schools and culture, and a host of other topics that contribute to the complex tapestry of symptoms and causes of our current malady. There are surely bad actors and corrupt leaders (on both sides of the aisle) who should be held to task for their contributions to the myriad problems that we are facing. However, what is most clearly to blame at this moment is unbridled blame itself.
The perpetrators of the El Paso and Dayton shootings, one evidently a far-right white supremacist and the other a far-left proponent of Antifa, differed significantly in ideology, but shared a pathological conviction that some other was responsible for what was wrong in this country, and therefore many innocents would have to pay the price. The guns they wielded were a violent extension of their pointed fingers — it’s your fault, it’s your fault, it’s your fault, they insisted on and on as many times as they could pull the trigger.
Who is responsible for their murderous blame? Everyone wants to point a finger at someone. And while the vast majority of us have the sanity and restraint to shoot only angry glances and words of accusation, are we not contributing to the fever pitch of demonization and character assassination which breeds ever-increasing antipathy and hostility?
If the “stable” among us are being ratcheted up by the incivility of our social discourse to several levels higher than our normal baseline, then those who were already percolating somewhere near the boiling point are surely going to be pushed over the limit — and that is precisely what is happening.
Why are these types of violent incidents increasing throughout the past 10 years? While the issues mentioned above are absolutely worth exploring and debating, what has certainly surged with the advent and penetration of social media throughout the past decade is a divisive and inciting rhetoric that streams before our eyes incessantly.
The culprit responsible for the increasing violence is each of us who contributes another log to the conflagration of belligerence that is already blazing. We teach our children that every time you point your finger at someone else, three of your fingers are pointing back at yourself. If we truly care about the victims of this weekend’s violence, and we truly desire that they will be the last, then we must examine our own responsibility and hesitate before we jump to blame.
We are not immune to the stress and tension that surrounds us, but neither are we incapable of controlling ourselves. Unbridled, childish behavior is modeled by our leaders, celebrities, and media purveyors, but we need not emulate them or encourage them.
Arguments can be made without rage. Issues can be explored without aggression. Solutions can, and will only, be discovered and implemented with composure and cooperation.