Yesterday, the US wept for the citizens of San Bernardino where a mass shooting has left at least 14 dead and incited another heated debate among citizens and politicians alike. Many people completely missed the shooting that occurred in Savannah, Georgia (my home state) leaving one dead and three others injured. Looking across my social media platforms, I see a Washington Post article that talks about how the number of mass shooters has surpassed the number of days. In what is seemingly an age of fear, complete with bulletproof blankets for your elementary school children, there have been two responses to the endemic in the US.
#1: Prayer: The favored approach by many on the right, and almost all of our politicians. We are often told that the families of the victims are in “our thoughts and prayers.” Not to sound insensitive, but it would be ludicrous to think that I have enough time to name all the victims of these attacks, let alone to say individual prayers for them AND their families. Unless it’s something general like, “Dear Deity, please pray for all those who were murdered at some point between January 1, 2015 and right this second.” That being said, prayer is something that is very important to me, and I really appreciate the sentiment behind it. But is that really the best we can do?
#2: Apathy: Unfortunately, I often find myself falling into these category, as I imagine many US citizens do. We read the news, shocked and appalled. Then we watch the response of our political and community leaders (i.e. prayer), shake our heads and go about our lives. Maybe if we’re really feeling inspired or impacted we might donate some money or post an angry article on our social media accounts. This is clearly not the answer.
Okay, so if these two things are good enough, well then what is? Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer to that. However, I do think understanding how individuals can come to do things like this might be a good place to start. I recently read a book, Hate List by Jennifer Brown, that follows the life of a teenage girl in the aftermath of a shooter at her high school committed by her boyfriend. While this is a book that hits a little close to the events of (what seems like) every day life, I believe that Brown’s work allows the reader to ask different types of questions in the wake of tragedy.
The heroine of Hate List, Valerie spent a good portion of her high school career being bullied at school and despising those who bully her with her boyfriend Nick. When Nick brings a gun to school to execute a “plan” she was not informed of, Valerie does a noble thing and steps in front of a potential victim to stop the violence. The next 400 pages describe what life was like for Valerie the year after the incident. This is a young adult novel, so there are the typical young adult trends — friendship mishaps, loneliness, love (or a lack there of in Valerie’s case), but beneath all of that is a truth that we as a society rarely ask ourselves.
How might we be responsible for the tragedies at hand?
In this novel the answer is simple – the “bullying” of a fragile mind. But bringing these same questions up in the landscape, what form of “bullying” happens in our lives. Does the rhetoric of mass media appeal to certain people, fringe groups, that think it’s a call to commit acts of violence (such as the attack on Planned Parenthood in Colorado)? Does US foreign policy that effects the citizens of a country, help breed anti-Western violence? Again, I don’t know the answer or if there is a clear answer. However, taking a pointer from Brown’s novel – if we work on coming together after tragedy rather than using it to divide us, we may be able to make some sense of these lives we lead.
Until Next Time World…