Back in December, this country was struck hard by horrific, thoughtless and tragic massacres with no apparent reason. Unimaginable atrocities. The work of insane and unloved individuals.
I speak of the two shootings that took place in two very different places in the US. First, in my home town on December 11th 2012, a young man in his early twenties stormed into the local mall and began firing shots from a stolen assault rifle, killing two innocent individuals before turning a handgun on himself. The second, more horrific occurrence in Connecticut happened on December 14th, 2012. A man stormed into a primary school, gunning down 20 innocent children and 6 adults before turning the weapon on himself. No clear motive. None of the victims had done their assailants any wrongdoing. All were innocent – their entire lives ahead of them.
Even as time has passed, digging into characters of the assailants, facts and circumstantial evidence to try to make sense of – there isn’t a confirmed or readily apparent motive. The complexity of both tragedies baffles the mind and challenges the psyche in the most uncomfortable ways.
These massacres happened not in private homes, nor were they retribution. They happened in places we all consider safe. A mall and a school are not places we expect anything bad to happen.
The Security Quilt
We have, in effect, a security quilt that we as a nation have collectively sewn. It’s made up of various patches that help us feel safe. Most patches are there thanks to the knowledge we gain from when bad things happen to innocent people.
Nothing compromises one of the many patches in our security quilt more than when something horrific happens and nobody can explain the one critical piece that helps to sew it back together: why did it happen?
It is human nature to demand an understanding the why behind situations of great wrongdoing. These events challenge what we thought were good rules of engagement to stay safe and separate ourselves from the harms that plague society.
A Patch Failed
So when a patch on our quilt no longer keeps us safe, we begin to try to fill in the void left.
Perhaps a condition unique to modern times, a curious side effect is that we want to mend that security quilt for society as a whole as fast as possible. We want to mobilize a resolution so that we can once again feel safe in our own skin no matter where we go or what we do.
I’ve now read multiple arguments about how the two shooting events referenced earlier could have been avoided – more trust in God in our country, gun bans, better security – it goes on. None goes beyond being anything but simplistic at best. None have the potential to be sewn back into the quilt and truly help anyone be safer.
It is a misconception that as a society we learn from past mistakes and somehow successfully inoculate the tragic threats from happening again. We’re this really true and we could solve all things, what would be left to enjoy? Many a philosopher has lamented that a completely safe society is a sterile and cold one leaving little to encourage the continuance of their life.
A brief look into history reveals that horrific and even less explainable events have taken place over and over again.
Tragedies will happen again. In rural Pennsylvania, a man shot and killed 3 innocent people on December 21st. A woman was gunned down after a road rage incident in Texas on December 20th. It actually happens almost daily in this land of opportunity.
So how can it be that we live in this society that continues to be safer but somehow can’t seem to protect itself from the most horrific of tragedies?
A Replacement Patch will be Sewn.
Perhaps this security quilt is doing it’s job better than we give it credit for in times like these. For the most part, our nation has seen a dramatic reduction in many negative metrics – murder, fatal auto accidents, poisonings, etc. So what’s all the fuss for? Haven’t we fixed this sort of thing before?
While we are off mourning and asking ‘why’, we are at the same time planning as a society what to do about that patch that failed in our quilt. We can’t help but want to repair it. So where do we go from here? What patch (or patches) will be sewn in?
In order for a collective security patch to be effective, everyone who benefits from it must maintain it. You can’t hide under a security blanket at night while committing atrocities during the day. While we’ve been off practicing our right to do whatever we want, we’ve forgotten a very simple thing: Responsibility.
It used to be that if we did something wrong, we were punished for it. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to see examples of this – particularly given the sensationalism that the modern news media employs.
We as a society have decided that it’s easier not to punish and demand obedience from our children. I see more parents simply telling their kids “stop that” and never actually holding them accountable for ceasing the bad behavior. There is no deterrent to being a bad person. This produces adults who have little if any respect for themselves and others. They have learned they can get away with anything without real consequence.
Think about that. If you can get away with anything without any real consequence your entire life, what will keep you from doing really terrible things? Sensationalized things?
Gone are the days of entertainment through creative means in mass media. Today we are bombarded with reality television which (for the most part) takes out of the ordinary people and situations and puts a magnifying glass on every questionable aspect of it for the purposes of entertainment.
Video games are bloody, violent and full of overly realistic simulations of situations that are either uncommon, loosely based on fantastical reality or completely fictional all together.
For many, their worldview is nearly entirely shaped by this sensationalized media – TV, Internet, Video Games. It seems reasonable to hypothesize at least that if your world view has always been sensationalized, your experiences in the real world will seem boring and mundane unless you do something to make it more interesting.
I don’t want that for my children.
Sewing New Patches Responsibly
From a simplistic point of view, we might argue that banning guns is the solution. Clearly, it’s not a solution that our society is ready for nor does it desire. One could also argue that people need to believe more in God. Again, society will never achieve that.
We must, instead, consider our responsibilities as individuals for living together. Laws and rules can only dictate what you shouldn’t do and the punishment for infractions. They cannot dictate anecdotal responsibilities.
What history has shown is that when we try to enforce moral law, we create strife and dissonance amongst those who disagree with being held to specific moral standards. It creates a means to control people against their will.
Instead of trying to change others, we must change ourselves. Parents must take difficult responsibilities to raise their children to be contributing members of society. Children must be taught to be obedient and responsible. Corporations must decide to do the right thing and stop taking gross advantage of resources.
We must sew on a new patch to our security quilt that says we will take responsibility for our actions, our children and our own lives.
Change starts with a desire to be something better than who or what you are today. It is when we accept ourselves as perfect that we have ceased to grow and inspire others. When we refuse to show compassion to people in need because it’s too difficult or inconvenient, we have failed each other. When we have decided to milk a system for all the resources it has to offer rather than taking responsibility for ourselves, we have failed to be responsibly resourceful. When we have no shame about taking advantage of something, we have failed as members of society.
Start small. Smile at someone. Apologize for doing something that annoys someone even if you don’t apologize to anyone for anything. Don’t flee the scene of an accident because you can’t afford to pay for the damage.
Let fix our security quilt and show a new patchwork of responsibility, compassion and resourcefulness.