Thursday, December 20, 2012

Getting Serious

So far, I have maintained a generally humorous and light presence on this blog. I do think, though, that my blog should reflect me, should reflect how I look at and interact with the world. I mostly interact with my world through sarcasm, silly jokes, and, while cooking, silly dances. Life is too short to spend the whole time moping about, and I have to agree with Dave Matthews when he says that he "can't believe that we would lie in our graves, wondering if we had spent our living days well".

But I do get serious from time to time, and I think my blog should reflect that. As much as I hope to make you laugh at me or at the parts of yourself that you see in my little stories, I also hope to influence you in some small way when I do become serious. I hope that I can push you occasionally to think about things from a perspective that you may not have considered.

With that goal mind, I need to say something about Sandy Hook Elementary School. I'm not the first to blog about it, and I won't be the last, but I do hope to say something that doesn't consist of trite or opportunistic assertions about the role of religion in schools, violent media in children's lives, or gun control. My friend Terese wrote beautifully about her reaction as a parent. She echoed my feelings, and judging by the comments she's received, I'm not alone in my agreement with her. 

We've had a remarkable outpouring of support for the victims' families. We have seen disgust, horror, and revulsion over the actions of the shooter. These responses have been nearly universal. I understand that in a nation of over 300 million people, there will be fringe groups like Westboro Baptist who either do not feel the horror that most feel, or who, despite the horror, choose to use the massacre to further their own agendas. There are also those who are considering enacting the same kind of mass killings that took place last week. We don't like to think about those people, but we know that this can happen again. In fact, our knowledge that this can happen again drives the fear that Terese wrote about in her blog and the determination she expressed not to allow that fear to rule her.

Our reaction to groups like Westboro Baptist or to the idea that some individual out there may already have plans to perpetrate their own crimes reaches nearly universal agreement, as well. At a deep and instinctive level, we recognize the fundamental evil not only of a person who could commit such a crime, but also of the people who would take advantage of that crime to make cheap political or religious points. Granted, the shooting will become another example that must come into our national discussions about the availability of guns to people of compromised mental states, about the state of mental health in the country, about the supposed role of violent media in desensitizing children to violence, about the role of religion in schools. These points have already come up in response to the tragedy, and I have my own strong opinions on all of them, but the tragedy should not serve as a tool to use in making broad and unsupported assertions.

I've paid special attention to the public reaction to the shooting because I want to make clear that the public reaction to it has been as nearly universal as is possible in a country with such a large and diverse population. Aside from the already mentioned fringe groups or individuals, nobody stopped last Friday and said, "Wait, I need to think about this. My political and religious background is not clear on the subject of school shootings." We didn't NEED to take time or debate anything. Whether because of our natures or because of our upbringing (encompassing a wide range of religious, political, and educational traditions), or in my opinion, through a combination of our nature and our upbringing, we automatically and instinctively understand the WRONGNESS of what happened last week in Newtown. Whether we believe that religion belongs in schools or not, whether we believe that violent media has an impact on our likeliness to commit violent crimes or not, whether we think that guns should be easier to get or harder to get, we all stand unified in our shock and outrage.

This public reaction gives me hope. 

Despite our disagreements over specifics and over the politics of our choices, our myriad traditions have taught the VAST MAJORITY of us the difference between right and wrong. I find comfort in this knowledge. It means that morally and educationally, we are doing something right. Society is not broken. Some individuals in our society are broken. But this is frightening to some, because it might mean that no single group has an absolute monopoly on truth or goodness, and some groups and public figures are now twisting facts, twisting statistics, and twisting decency to convince the public that their group needs to dictate behavior for all of us. Attacking my lifestyle or beliefs, telling me that my lack of active religious faith makes me in some way complicit in a crime like this is wrong. I've seen versions of this idea pushed by some very public figures over the last few days, and this is not the way forward.

To get through this event, others like it, and others to come, to find a way to prevent tragedies like this in the future, we have to recognize our fundamental unity, not our fundamental differences. I don't know what that means on a large scale. I don't know how that will work, but I DO know that as an individual, I can choose to avoid hostility toward those who disagree with my positions, and I can ask others to do the same. 

We're more alike than we sometimes realize.

1 comment:

  1. "We automatically and instinctively understand the WRONGNESS of what happened last week in Newtown." Yes. The "we" in that sentence is the best part. That in and of itself should bring comfort to us all. "We" are more loving and protective. "We" want our children to grow up and live their lives to the fullest. "We" mourned the loss of 26 people. "We" will offer support to the ones who are suffering. Whether it comes in the form of direct assistance or a call to change so that we can limit these horrific events from happening again, "we", not the individual, will work together to heal and protect.
    When tragedy strikes, we tend to focus inward and just look at our situation. We ask ourselves how our lives would be if something like that happened to us. That can make us feel alone and vulnerable. (That was the cause of my fear over the weekend.) But, as you pointed out, we are not alone. We can rest assured knowing that, as a whole, we are stronger and more compassionate than the broken parts.
    Now, let's work on fixing the broken parts...

    Thank you for sharing your perspective, Mike. Excellent post!