I should know better than to go on Facebook after a big news story like Friday’s shooting. The phrase “emotional rollercoaster” is a grave understatement of the mess the Internet becomes in the wake of calamity. One vocal friend who responds to current events with an impressive balance of authority and humanity posted several half-commentaries on gun control. But their merit was buried under a shield of snark. Another one focused her thoughts on the victims of the attack, but what might have been an expression of grief or respect was muddled with anger.
This atrocity seems impossible to understand. It is heartbreaking. And that emotional intensity urges people into a cycle of confusion, assertion, and stagnation. Part of what makes this such an overwhelming and frustrating experience rather than the true dialogue it needs to be is that people want to have their say about an issue, they want to have “done” something about it, and they want something concrete and definite. So they repeat things that have already been said, or they make definitive statements about how this is an issue of gun control or it’s an issue of mental health care or it’s an issue of the world being irrevocably broken or it’s about the children and teachers who lost their lives. It is in part all of those things and more (except the brokenness one), but grasping that ambiguity is difficult and scary.
And it’s no wonder that people want to take a stand, vent emotion, and feel like they’re in control of something. It’s documented that in the weeks following an attack like this one, attempts at similar ones will crop up. There have been multiple reports of attempted or planned shootings since Friday. These all coincide with the predicted apocalypse, with the dregs of sympathy and fear attached to Hurricane Sandy, with post-election energy, with Hannukah, Christmas, Solstice…it feels like an unsustainable amount of chaos manifesting at once. It feels like we should act now.
But the fact remains if you really want to change something at its root, you can’t start with the doing. You have to understand it, be with it, be with other people who want to understand how to fix it. You can’t hide behind half-answers and then forget until the next time it happens. Yes, there is urgency. There is immediacy. There is danger. But sustainable change comes from being brave about that ugly reality until you understand why it is the way it is and can do something with that.
It is perhaps the most important thing at this moment to support the families of the victims – in whatever way you can – and your own family, friends, and acquaintances. But that is not the end of it. It will not be enough to be there, and then to move on. This tragedy is part of a trend in violent crime in the United States, one that will continue to not change in response to this ritual of finding false comfort and expressing certainty that isn’t there.
I don’t have a complete answer. I don’t think any of you do, either (ring me up if you do). But I know that there has to be another way, and we have to find it together.
I know what some of you are thinking. “This is just the easy way out, brushing off something so seemingly incomprehensible and making people feel like they’re off the hook for actually doing anything.” I think that all the time. There’s this feeling of overwhelming guilt—“If only I’d done something, or done it better,”—personal responsibility for the whole world, and fear that there isn’t a better answer out there. For those of you who can’t stand to sit idly by right now, there are a few direct actions you can take (lovingly compiled by the staff of Rookie), but know that they will not result in instant change.
I urge you to do what you need to do to work through this barrage of conflicting emotions and perceived demands on your time and talent. Be extra nice to strangers, tell people you care about that you love them, whatever it is that will help you rediscover compassion and patience. But don’t forget that this happened. Return to it in a week or so, and think about the things that you are scarily good at. Do those things, and apply them to what we are all afraid of.