School Shootings: A Simple Problem with Complex Roots
I am angry. My son is now finishing his senior year of high school and thankfully has not had to endure such horrors as have been selling newspapers lately. That doesn’t stop him from thinking about it and dealing with the phenomenon of school shootings alongside his classmates and teachers. With any luck, he will emerge from the public school system adequately prepared for the world ahead… and breathing. Even with that luck and hopeful outcome, the issue doesn’t end just because I no longer have a student in the school system. Collectively, our children matter a great deal to me because they are the future of this country. School shootings are essentially a lens through which we have an opportunity to pick apart the mistakes we have made in prioritizing what we do as a people and how we raise our young. Stopping school shootings will require us to come to terms with some pretty uncomfortable underlying issues. The act will also challenge you to exit your echo chamber and be vulnerable enough to love the neighbor you have been taught to despise.
The Cause Is EVERYTHING
School shootings will not end because the government decides to put more guns in schools. Violence won’t end because they re-instate prayer as an institutional practice. Children dying will not end because they post guards and police officers at schools and have them walking the halls. Your child won’t be safer simply because they install bullet resistant doors in classrooms. Johnny will not be more able to learn and be safe because they took these 20 guns off store shelves or limited how many bullets that can be loaded into a magazine. Stop thinking like a parrot. Parrots mimic sounds they hear, but will never truly understand the language or related imagery. Parrots might like getting a cracker when they make a particular noise, but they will never understand that they asked for it by identifying themselves as “Polly”.
At the risk of sounding old, our children appear to be increasingly disconnected from each other and us. We advertise and highlight the worst among us while mostly ignoring the good. We have prioritized work over everything else and do not leave time for living and interacting. Because we chose something other than each other and practice seeing evil, we no longer see value in our peers. We cannot communicate with those who are different and have to live behind a mask of carefully groomed appearances. Our profile pictures are taken from just the right upward angle to make us appear more attractive, so no one has to deal with anything real. We lie and we ignore that which is not properly edited to match our notion of perfect sameness.
In my neighborhood there are children who play basketball together in their driveways and side roads. It is so refreshing to see them walking along, bouncing their basketballs on the way to the next pickup game without a single cell phone in sight. It is refreshing to see their parents out walking the dog or doing yard work, stopping to deliver advice or shoot a hoop themselves. I wonder how close to extinction that kind of simple act is. I wonder how they would react if a new child they don’t know were to show up. Perhaps this child experiences life differently and doesn’t think of shooting hoops with their mother; hiding from her hateful treatment instead. My hope is the ballers would express the same kind of love to that other person as their parents and neighbors have expressed to them. The truth is, most of us would not. Whether the barrier was economic or racial, we would trip over the tiniest evidence we were showing love to the wrong person.
The concept of the echo chamber in our society is real, and I think it drives much of our differences and makes them more pronounced. We have practiced institutionalized division of people in the name of creating safety for those different for so long, all we know in each other is what makes us different. The Civil Rights Act is a shame, not because it is a bad law, but because we shouldn’t need to be told to treat someone with respect and dignity for any reason. Whatever we veil our hate with, whether it is a law to protect someone other than ourselves or a Bible, we still hate each other. Then because we sit in groups of others exactly the same, we get external validation of these broken views and begin to assume we’re right; that all our problems are someone else’s. Our very identities are tied to these concepts so that when someone challenges them, we perceive those as threats to our very selves. We stop evolving and learning.
The most vulnerable people to this kind of subjugation are our children. They’re put into situations that take their lack of guidance from home and couple it with evidence the rest of the world doesn’t care either. They update their profile pictures trying to make themselves more pretty and keep trying to lie better. Then if they’re lucky they grow up with mostly the skills of division practiced into reflex. These beautiful and perfect people learn to hate each other and themselves. The cycle continues for the next generation.
The old man suggesting the problem is that we don’t pray in school is not wrong. He’s no more wrong than the guy suggesting we need more gun crontrol. And neither of them are less human or more unfeeling because they think the solution is parents reading to their children at night. It is probably a piece of all of these things, but none of them will work in a vacuum.
Can I Trade In My Diversity For Some UNITY?
Imagine if you would a place where people walk in as equals. Your assumption is that the people you meet deserve to be here, and they you. You believe there is equality in everyone present regardless of visual cues. Even if they have a speech impediment, are ugly, don’t have any money, or they speak a different language. You even believe you are the same if their skin is a different color than your own. What makes you different then? Does it matter? Wouldn’t you instead begin to understand that each person has something to contribute that is meaningful and precious? Imagine love has nothing to do with the physical world, but instead lives in your metaphorical heart? You extend your hand to the one who fell down out of reflex, now. You aren’t scared because the person walking towards you is a threat. Your natural instinct is to report the good and deal with the bad in a rational way.
We all have something valuable to contribute to society. Even THAT guy.
Respect Different Views AND VALUES
Gun violence in schools creates unspeakable tragedy, and discussing it is difficult. It is impossible for me to put myself in the shoes of one affected directly by these crimes. Even though it is difficult, I believe we must discuss it, and we must find a way. Step one: stop judging other people when they get involved in discussing the problem. I would challenge you to accept that different values amongst different people produce different perspectives and may limit agreement. This should be a source of strength. Have the guts to first assume your ideas are strengthened by the input of others and that their input is just as valid as your own. In some cases you simply have to agree you are not always right. Civil discourse requires you to eagerly educate yourself. Be skeptical of all the information you are taking in. Ask why. In short, be empathetic and diligent.
What About the United States?
The United States is unique. Because this debate involves concepts tied to our Bill of Rights I will challenge you to remember these bits of ancient law and wisdom helped to produce and maintain this great country. Even still, part of the reason we’ve lasted this long is that we have the ability to amend these laws and refine them over time. At times we don’t do a great job here but the spirit of democracy, even in the context of a representative republic, should give you hope. Don’t give up the ghost of our country as a way to combat this horrible problem, but don’t be afraid to support things you know will help.
People tend to see trigger words in debates about basic rights and immediately either vigorously agree or disagree because of them. Compromise is the correct word here. As an example, no one will have their 2nd Amendment rights infringed upon by having to wait a few days to pick up their new firearm. Junior can wait until his 25th birthday to claim ownership as well, even though he might already be eligible to learn from Uncle Sam and fight in a war. He can sit and watch his elders drink while he doesn’t own a gun too. That said, asking everyone to give up their firearms is a non-starter. It simply won’t happen. I’m suggesting there are a lot of tools in this toolbox, and the focus must be on stopping school shootings.
The Philosophy Behind a Solution
First of all, listen. Listen to the other person and understand what they are saying. If you feel there is something between the lines, ask directly. In that act, be compassionate. The best compromise doesn’t require you to give up your position entirely, but most require you to adjust your vision.
Recognize that small, seemingly unrelated actions can have a long term impact on the world around you. Think about how the great people in your life have influenced you and how.
Live your argument. If you can’t live it, you shouldn’t make it.
Be kind to people you don’t agree with. Do it when you are not debating the topic too. Be kind to the stranger on the street. You never know what people are dealing with, and the more we really try to be kind to others, the more we will collectively reap the benefit of a benevolent spirit.
Don’t be afraid to share your perspective, but be willing to learn from other people too. Recognize unsavory characteristics in yourself, then be the fat guy in the gym. There is no shame in recognizing an issue and doing something about it. Practice doing things differently so that you no longer integrate the kinds of hate into yourself that you know are wrong in the world.
When you fail to live up to your own standards, keep trying. This applies to everything you do. Keep trying. You have only failed when you give up.
When you learn something new, be prepared to adjust your understanding AND your position. We’ve shamed people for changing their positions over time, but this is done in error. It takes a lot more strength and courage to say you were wrong than it does to be stubborn and unyielding in the face of the truth.
If you read a lot of “2nd Amendment” and “protect gun rights” color in what I’ve written here, I completely own that. Yes, I am truly hopeful we can preserve the rights of lawful American Citizens to own and bear arms. In fact, I would say our country would be lost without these and other enumerated rights.
If you read a lot of support for more gun control in what I’ve written here, I completely own that too. It is my sincere hope that we stop selling guns to people who should not have them, and that we ensure the guns we sell are within the bounds of what is reasonable. In fact, I believe our country will be lost without proper gun control.
I also want you to read the rest of what I’ve written here and hear it as well. I am neither a gun nut or a gun control nut. And I don’t think the rest of you should be those things either. I am mostly hopeful that we can leave the times behind us when we do harm to each other because we are alone and apart from the herd. I want us to be strong against the forces of evil without subjugating those who would otherwise be positive contributors to our world.
Is it so wrong to wish that even the people who would perpetrate these crimes have a chance to know what love is? Is it not okay to wish this for all of them, no matter their color or religion (or lack thereof)? Let’s all enter the room as if we have no bias and no hate. Instead of getting defensive, listen to the way others vibrate the air with their words, and let that translate through a lens of empathy and understanding. Don’t be a parrot. And don’t be so cowardly as to instantly dismiss something that sounds different from the echo you are used to.
None of these laws or possessions can be taken with us into the great beyond, so let’s try to remember what is really important.