Regardless where you live, things happen in the world around you that make you shake your head and want to cover your eyes. Violence–be it physical or metaphorical–seems to dominate American discourse. This is not new. Families are torn apart by internal and external forces and those who experience it are left in one way or another bruised and bloodied. This is not new. We, as individuals, are cut by words and deeds and an endless Lazy Susan of disappointments and confusions. This, too, is nothing new. Time marches on, and as the saying goes…there ain’t nothin’ new under the sun.
The trick to surviving all the pitfalls comes in our choice of responses and the armor we wear just to step out the door and go about our daily lives. Some days it has to be actual physical armor. Some days it’s less tangible and more about our street smarts. We have to be mentally sharp as a tack and so on our guard that exhaustion from the effort seems our oldest companion. But, hey…. We’re humans. It’s what we do. We go out into the world and try to live a life. Whether accurate or not, it seems we often feel our options for the living part are limited. And the problem with that is, for some people, that sense of not having good options leads to a sense of desperation. Of frustration or fear so great it easily morphs into rage. Rage against family or friends or groups or persons. It’s one of the oldest stories told. Person A was mad/hurt/desperate/scared by Element B so they acted out by committing Action C. Now we’re left with Aftermath D.
You can fill in the specifics of this story using almost any details you can dream up. The possibilities have proven endless. We’re humans. We are powerful, emotional creatures with brains so big we can’t even access all its capabilities in a lifetime. So, we take actions. Sometimes we cause pain. Sometimes we feel it. It’s what we do.
The aftermath currently on almost everyone’s mind (I’m guessing, of course, but I think it’s a solid bet) is the Tucson, AZ, shootings from January 8. I cannot and will not speculate on what led Mr. Loughner to begin shooting at Rep. Gifford and others in that parking lot. There’s a lot of discussion about the role some online rhetoric may have played. But if Mr. Loughner was that easily led to violence, his trigger could have come from any of a myriad of sources. Music is a favorite blame of many finger-pointers, but it’s just a start. Rap music, country music, death metal–sure. But don’t forget video games, exploitive television talk shows, violence in cartoons, pornography, school bullies, hormones in milk, sexual and physical abuse, internet chat rooms…. The more “evolved” our society becomes the more opportunities there are for us to JUST GET SO MAD!!!
Big emotional brains. Big emotional reactions. What we do.
He’s not the first person to focus his deep frustration and rage on an outlet that is likely 99-percent unrelated to what’s really got him upset. But a concern is that he’ll be pigeon-holed as mentally unstable. “He’d have to be crazy to shoot a nine-year old girl!” “He’d have to be nuts to just start shooting a bunch of strangers!” And if that happens…if he’s dismissed as just another looney who needs to be medicated…I believe we’ll miss an opportunity to see a much bigger, much more vital picture. This horrible thing happened, and these lives are forever changed, and suddenly a whole lot of people are talking about things like “tone” and “consequences.” Which is awesome. Because I believe anyone who’s been paying attention even a tiny bit has been thinking about it and covering their eyes for decades. And here is a chance to really address it and do something.
It doesn’t have to be a big expensive time consuming something. It doesn’t have to be legislative or tweeted or posted. It can be as simple as taking the chips off our shoulders and trying to remember things we learned as we took our first steps. Don’t push. Say please. Say thank you. Don’t call each other names. Smile. BE POLITE.
Simple and simplistic. Possibly unbearably naive. But, basic. Also free. We humans love free.
If media pundits and preachers alike want to opine about how to recover from this event, and to do more than just take a moment of silence to show our respects to those injured and murdered, it has to be a grassroots movement. It has to start with each of us individually, and we have to have the guts to stick it out. We have to remain reflective. We can’t wimp out because some guy cut us off in his SUV, or someone we love said something awful. We can’t do the easy thing and JUST GET SO MAD!!!
The simplest act can have a profound effect. It can. How do we know? Because it has always been that way. It just seems like the only simple acts we pay attention to are the ones that lead to destruction. A switch flipped. A trigger pulled. A word shouted in anger. Yes. Those things are what we do. But, so is the other stuff. So are the smiles. So are the hands reaching down to the hand reaching up. So is the pat on on the back. All with the potential to have a profound effect.
We are a nation of humans who have travelled over time from one corner of this funny planet to another. We have a history of struggling. We have a history of greed and war and invention and hope. Sometimes we just want to shake our heads and cover our eyes. It’s what we do. But it’s not all we do. Our big emotional brains are easily bored, it seems, and they love a challenge.
I believe our brains like to have the guts to stick things out.
So just try it. Don’t push. Say please and thank you. Don’t call each other names. Smile. BE POLITE.
These things can also be what we do.