I have met the enemy, and he is us. ~ Walt Kelly
On Friday, December 14, the unthinkable happened. A young man walked into an elementary school in Newton, Connecticut and shot and killed 20 young children and 6 staff members before taking his own life. As the drama unfolded, we also learned that before this climactic act of violence, he had murdered his own mother in their home. This was a terrible tragedy, a terrible day for the whole of Newton, the whole of America, and the whole of the world.
But what has struck me as even more terrible has been the response to this shooting.
As human beings, our response to that which hurts us is to lash out. To, in effect, hurt back. We react to bad news first with denial, then with anger. It seems to be how we are programmed. And we need somewhere to direct that anger. We place blame. We find a villain.
Some are blaming the guns. Guns ARE a problem. Guns serve one purpose. They are tools of death, and too many people take the use of them far too casually. But guns are not THE problem.
(Sidebar here: Could someone please explain to me, in a calm, rational manner how the ownership of semi-automatic weapons designed to kill large numbers of enemy combatants efficiently equals personal freedom? Really?)
Some are blaming the lack of services for the mentally ill. It is true that there is a dearth of care for those with mental and emotional issues. We understand so little about mental illness and about our own minds that it is easy to look away from it, and to cut funding from budgets, because there is no cut and dried solution. Again, a real problem, but not the only problem.
Some have tried to blame the mother. After all, SHE bought the guns. SHE was a "gun nut". SHE was divorced from her husband and raising a troubled son alone. What those people seem to be forgetting is that SHE was a human being, doing her best, who was also a victim of this violent rampage. NO ONE, no matter their faults, deserves that.
Still others are blaming the media. The media "glamourizes" these terrible events. No, they don't. It is the media's job to answer the five W's: what, when, where, who, and why. We want to know what is going on around us, and the media is our connection to that information. The media's biggest failing is that, when it cannot give an answer, it makes something up to keep you interested until the truth comes out. THAT is the problem with the media. They can't just say, "We don't know, but we'll tell you later when we have some facts." because people will turn away and their sponsors will not have anyone to slog Cialis and laundry detergent to. Again, a problem, but not THE problem.
And some are blaming the lack of enforced prayer in schools, because God does not go where he is not invited. I'm not even going to go there.
The terrible tragedy in Newtown is, sadly, just another terrible tragedy in a long line of terrible tragedies. This year has seemed particularly bad for mass shootings, suicides amongst bullied teens, atrocities committed by governments against their people. (Or maybe it's all just the media's fault for reporting it.) This year has seen a lot of talk about stopping shcoolyard bullying, as bullying at the government and corporate level has reached an all-time high. This year has seen the horrible divisiveness of the US election, the violence of the election in Quebec, and the awfulness of the red-neck rhetoric in the election in Alberta. This year has been a year of WE versus THEY. We must fight the other side, be it bullying, the opposing political philosophy, the different religious belief.
It strikes me, as I look at the events of last Friday in sequence with all the other events of 2012, that the problem with the world is not guns, or mothers, or media sensationalism. It is us. We NEED to find a bad guy, a scapegoat, an OTHER.
We have a WE versus THEY mentality. Good versus Evil. Right versus Wrong. And in order for us to be the ones who are right, the OTHER has to be wrong. Right-wing versus left-wing, rich versus poor, black versus white, pro versus con. There are two sides to every argument, and no middle ground. And it has to be a full-out, cage match battle to the death. No surrender.
So, what if we changed the terms of engagement? We want to have WE versus THEY. It seems to be our human instinct. Okay...how about we redefine who WE and THEY are?
Several great philosophies have proposed this: There are only two human emotions, love and fear. When we act, we are acting from either one or the other. Acting from love results in charity, acceptance, and kindness. Acting from fear results in anger, cruelty, and violence. Acting from love is hard, because it requires us to look inside ourselves and see not only our strength, but our weakness and helplessness, and to accept them. We can then see the weakness and vulnerability in others, and accept it. Acting from fear is easy, because we look outward at what we fear and we can blame it and make it the enemy. We do not have to accept it, we can battle it, strive to hurt it. And if we cause fear to someone else in the process, all the better, because then we are not alone in our fear. The more fearful we are, the harder we fight and the louder we yell.
When we lash out at blame the shooter, the NRA, the media, we are responding from fear. We were helpless to save those poor children, we feel impotent, we are fearful. So was that young gunman. He reacted to that fear the only way he knew how. He was helpless and impotent and fearful, he strove to fight that fear with violence in an attempt to feel less fearful and more powerful. He shared his fear, and spread it, not only amongst the students of Sandy Hook, but throughout the world. He multiplied his fear, giving him power and sapping ours.
WE can respond from love, while THEY continue to respond from fear.
When we respond with love, if we feel compassion not only for the victims of the shooter, but for the shooter himself; if we understand that the more aggressive one's actions are, the more fearful they are; if we forgive our perceived enemies, WE become the strong ones. We accept that we are not perfect, therefore our view of right and wrong are not definitive. We accept that another may see things differently, but that does not change the rightness of how we see it. We understand that everyone has the same weaknesses that we have, and that their perceived power is actually the manifestation of their fear. We no longer feel threatened by them, and we become stronger.
Here is what I propose: The next time something happens that makes you feel helpless and powerless, accept that you are powerless. Cry. Curl up in a fetal position on the floor. Let that helplessness wash over you. And then get up and dry your eyes and do something kind for yourself. Make a cup of tea, take a hot bath, go for a pedicure. Then go do something kind for one other person. Hug your child, let someone in ahead of you in traffic, pay for the next person's coffee. And move forward. Do not cling to that thing that made you helpless. Look forward to tomorrow. Tomorrow will bring its own challenges, but you will be just a little bit stronger, because you did not let fear win today.
When WE approach the world with love, we are not battling an external enemy, we are battling the fear inside ourselves. WE do not need to do harm to others to win. WE need only to accept that they are as weak and as powerless as we are. And then we see that THEY are as human as we are, and that they are not the OTHER, they are just as much WE as we are.
None of this is going to undo the terrible things that have happened. We cannot bring back those 28 people who died on Friday, or the 250-some-odd who have died of gunshot wounds since then. We cannot undo the harsh words that were Tweeted. But we can move forward and choose to apply our WE versus THEY instinct in a more constructive manner. We can choose to battle from a Love versus Fear standpoint instead.
And maybe, just maybe, if enough of us fight from love instead of fear, we won't need guns, or mental health services, or angry words, or blame. Maybe, just maybe, we will cease to be WE versus THEY and just become US.