Reflections on Yet Another Senseless Tragedy

I see that many others on Facebook, Tumblr, WordPress,  and other social media are discussing the recent school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. There is not much I can add that hasn’t already been expressed. No one, especially a child, wakes up in the morning expecting that day to be their last. This sort of thing may explain why fear and mistrust are so high in this country. For many people, it only takes a few incidents like these over the years to really chip away at one’s trust towards humanity.

I grow weary of this horrific cycle: innocent people are senselessly killed, we become saddened and outraged for days as the media focuses almost exclusively on the tragedy, and then things return to normal until the pattern repeats again. I understand horrific events like this will always happen, and that gun massacres are hardly unique to the US. But this horror still seems far too frequent for such a developed country. I’m starting to wonder if it has anything to do with the high level of social dysfunction in our society, combined with one of the lowest rates of mental health services in the industrialized world. Whatever the case may be, I wish there was clear solution.

I am now hearing arguments that teachers should be allowed to carry firearms while in school. A similar case was made with regard to college students and professors following the Virginia Tech massacre. I understand the temptation of this argument, but it raises significant problems.

First of all, I can’t imagine that many instructors (or parents and students) would feel comfortable with a firearm present while teaching children. Even with safety measures in place, it is still risky, and a sense of uneasiness would likely remain. Moreover, many teachers may not be qualified or inclined to learn how to use a gun.

But even if we assign armed guards or police officers instead (which would likely be expensive), I have to wonder: what effect would such a pervasive siege mentality have on our society? Do we really want to live in a world where everyone sees the need to be armed all the time, everywhere they go, in order to feel safe? What impact does that have on one’s psyche or sense of trust? No other developed society in the world has a comparable problem.

In any case, the data reveal that the picture is rather mixed. For example, in most cases, the killer did in fact obtain the gun legally. Yet at the same time, strict gun laws haven’t always translated into fewer gun crimes, even though more guns in general tend to correlate with more gun crime. It’s also clear that unequal societies – those with high rates of poverty and social dysfunction – tend to be more violent overall as well. The complexity of the issue means it’ll take a multidimensional and systemic approach to resolve – which is probably why we’ve yet to even seriously discuss this problem.

I’ll end this with a prescient quote attributed to Fred Rogers (aka Mister Rogers), which has been making the rounds since yesterday’s school shooting.

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.

While it may be apocryphal, the point of this statement still applies: almost every tragedy, including this one, has had its heroes. It may not seem like much consolation, but we must grasp onto whatever good we could find in the world. That’s something I’ve had to keep in mind time and again, given the years I’ve spent studying war, current events, genocide, and the like.

If there can be any consolation in this horrific tragedy, it is in the tremendous outpouring of love, solidarity, and empathy being expressed by millions of people around the country (and the world). Just about everyone I know has shared their sadness and condolences for the victims. It is reassuring that many of us haven’t become so hard-hearted after all that we’ve seen over the years. While this massacre – among other things – represents the worst of human nature, the sincere heartfelt responses reflect the best. It doesn’t make up for the suffering, but it helps keep my bouts of cynicism and misanthropy at bay. Let’s not lose our love and concern for each other as a species. That’s partly what makes things like this more common.