Public Tragedies and How to Move Forwards: the Sandy Hook Shooting
Like most everyone else, I’ve been reading the news the last few days with a mix of shock and horror and deep sadness as the details of exactly what happened at Sandy Hook elementary school emerge, and the public responses to the event occur.
There are some terribly hard questions to be asked when tragic events like this take place. Why did it happen? Why did no one see it coming? Who is at fault, and what could we have done differently? In the midst of grief and shock and horror, we have a tendency to point fingers and assign blame, desperate to have it be someone’s fault. Because if there’s not a clear, easily-defined reason for the tragedy, then we don’t know when or where or how or why it might happen again, which is (of course) the most terrifying thing of all. The unknown. The fact that if there’s no one directly at fault, there might be nothing we can do. And then we might be the ones at fault. Terrifying. So we point fingers, assign blame, aim to punish the “guilty” and the “wicked” for the salving of our own consciences.
But all this rapid-fire blame-flinging (some of it blatantly self-serving, some just misguided and being hurled out of fear and ignorance) does little to help the situation, either. We can rail against violent video games just because of a suggestion that the shooter might have enjoyed the odd LAN party. We can rail against the NRA because the shooter lived in a home where guns were owned. We can rail against the shooter himself for being “troubled”, or his mother for raising him wrong. We can rail against the mental health care system for not “fixing” the shooter. We can rail against feminists and pro-choice activists for “denying God” and allowing evil to take place in the world. We can rail against the police for not showing up faster, the school for not being locked down in an armored and guarded complex, or the victims for not learning to duck. None of it helps. What has taken place is in the past, and what we now need to do is face up to it like mature, rational people, and find ways of moving forwards and addressing what has occurred. Instead we get mired down in yelling at each other, in blaming one group or another, instead of asking “what can I do to help?”
First of all, you can stop sensationalizing and romanticizing murder. Like the quote in the above image says, you’re just planting the seeds for another attention-starved person to plan a copycat killing, without honouring the dead or those who are suffering right now. Don’t focus on the killer, focus on the victims. Focus on efforts to help the bereaved families, to rebuild a shattered community. Focus on ways to help your own community and family deal with what has happened. Focus on love, and the heroes who gave their lives to save the lives of others, and all of the positive things that have been done and are being done. Focus on remembering the names of the victims.
Do not insert yourself into the tragedy. Do not make this, somehow, about you and your struggles. It isn’t the time.
Be loving. Share with other people. Include other people in your grief, rather than hiding away from the world. Because if you include other people, if you talk and communicate and share and give and love? You’re creating a support network that can help victims and protect from further harm.
Resist the temptation to point fingers and blame. No matter what your personal feelings on issues like gun control, this is not the time to air your personal grievances. There are others with deeper griefs just now. This isn’t to say that we can’t use this event as a lens through which to view issues like gun control, mental health care, security measures in schools, and the like — it’s important to analyze and dissect things from a political perspective — but when you do so, separate it from the emotionally charged language of the tragedy. Focus on facts, statistics, numbers: things that are quantifiable. Avoid speculation and unsubstantiated rumours. The more logic that we can bring to bear on the situation, the better and more well-founded our conclusions will be.
This is a logical time for people to be questioning gun control regulations and whether there need to be changes made. This is a logical time for people to be looking at whether the shooter could have been helped by a differently organized mental health care system. This is a logical time for people to be looking at how security in public schools is equipped (or not equipped) to deal with these sorts of events. We should be talking about these things, and many others. But no one has an absolute answer that will “fix” the problem, and anyone shouting that they do is just pushing an agenda. There hasn’t been enough time to assimilate all of the information and dissect it carefully & thoroughly.
Be as logical as you can be. Because irrational, emotional responses? Those only cause more harm, in more far-reaching ways that you can possibly imagine.
I remember when Columbine happened. I was in the 6th grade, and I was what was defined as a “troubled” kid. I had few friends, was considered “antisocial” by my teachers. I dressed differently from other kids, listened to loud music, and yes, I owned a long trenchcoat-style jacket. In the weeks and months following, I had everyone from fellow students to teachers to my own mother express concerns that I might be “just like those Columbine shooters”. I was treated like a dangerous menace, a ticking time bomb, because of the media hype surrounding how the Columbine shooters wore trenchcoats and listened to metal and were outcasts without many friends.
The media hype surrounding that event almost drove me to suicide, because I was so afraid of what might be “wrong” with me. I’d been profiled as a killer, lumped in with people who’d done something so awful that my mind couldn’t even totally comprehend it. And I still feel a lot of that same anxiety as an adult, when I see murders blamed on people’s mental health issues or their turbulent relationships with their mothers or their introverted natures.
It took me years to realize that people’s reactions to that event, and to me in its aftermath, were the product of fear. They wanted, desperately, to have some sort of control over an event that had seemed utterly unfathomable right up until the moment when it occurred. They grasped at straws, seeking to connect the dots in any possible way, hoping to protect themselves and instead furthering a witch-hunt that unfairly categorized not only me, but thousands of other kids like me, as dangerous and scary. And instead of reaching out to people like me, instead of making us feel more included, more loved, less like outcasts in the first place? They drove us further away. The people who made me feel so awful, so worthless, were not asking “what can I do?” They were asking, “who’s fault is this?” and pointing blame at the people like me.
Don’t let that happen. Don’t give in to that temptation. Live with love, not with fear, and see how much farther that will take you.