Guns, Children, Fear ... and Unanswered Questions
The school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, was the 16th mass shooting this month. When I read those words yesterday, I felt numb in my body and heart. Think of it: numbness. A mysteriously un-human quality this ... It suggests that we've had this experience so many times this year and throughout the years since Columbine in 1999, that our senses don't know what to do with tragic, violent, untimely deaths anymore. Have we really ceased to become shocked? What do we feel exactly and how do we talk about it? Why can't we protect our children?
There are too many questions, I'm afraid, and an imperative to peel away some layers in order to understand why these tragic losses keep coming in this country, why we keep watching as young people in their schools -- supposedly places of safety and refuge -- are being gunned down by their peers.
Human animals are strange indeed, and quite unlike our relations in the wild, for we seem to be turning on our young instead of protecting and nurturing them. And while all the voices ring out and proclaim outrage at this senseless violence and waste of young lives, no moves are made to bring the violence to a halt. There is a disconnect between what I see as the fundamental rules of rearing our young people and our political system that seems to be held in the grip of those who worship the 2nd Amendment and distort its original intent. My heart is deeply saddened, I'm confused, and I have a hard time finding the words to communicate authentic thoughts and emotions.
I have plenty of questions that circulate through my brain: why are we killing children? why can't we have a society based on ethics and right action? what parts of our society are failing our young people? when did this all begin and why? what will it take for this to cease?
Those questions seem to point to a psychotic dysfunction in a culture that has been colored profoundly by inequality and violence, and to the delusions of mind brought about by tehcnology's frightening speed. Sadly there are plenty of young people with guns that have little understanding of how real AND deadly the weapons really are, as though they were playing a part in some shoot-em-up movie. I am old enough to remember a turning away from the light and a what we might think of as a civil society around the time John Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. But of course we already had a legacy of violence in this country that erupted over decades in the South as the white population desperately tried to prevent the blacks from becoming empowered. Our televisions brought into our comfortable living rooms the relentless cruel warfare waged on African Americans in the South and beyond as we watched with trepidation and discomfort. This calculated use of force, as well as the assassinations of our leaders, set the groundwork for humans murdering their own kind in the decades that followed. Greed, fear, and social inequality ... they all played a part. We were (are) a fragmented society with our families spread apart, and after Martin Luther King was killed we seemed to lack a spiritual voice in America that would remind us that we're brothers, that working together and in community without violence, is the way to effect change for all our citizens.
When I step back and look at our world now, one of the forces I'm most aware of is fear. Too many are governed by fear, whether it's of not having enough to eat, not having enough wealth, or beauty and talent, or power and control. The politicians play off that fear, and people vote for the candidates who promise to extricate people from their fearful lives. And of course the promises are not fulfilled, and more fear is stirred up, particularly of races who are different from us -- different religions. languages, and different color skin. In today's world as young students are being shot to death in schools, fear is everywhere: on city streets, in schools, at the ballot box, reading the news of nuclear proliferation, in the workplace, behind the wheel of a car, sitting at the local pub trying to escape the horrible news, and so on and so on.
Currency of the realm seems to be fear, and I am wondering if our young people who have been neglected or abused, have some mental dysfunction, don't fit into their own culture and are terrified of not belonging, if these kids are picking up guns in order to avoid feeling so afraid. This is just one observation by a bystander (myself) who feels confused by all the deaths in the schools... Yes, we do have mentally ill people who have slipped through the cracks and not received help -- in other words, we have a mental health system that needs to be reinvented. Yes, there is entirely too much access to weapons. And yes, we have politicians operating out of ignorance and fear.
Healing is needed. The teachings of the Buddha point the way to choosing a life of non-harming. So my next complicated question is: how can we bring this wisdom to those responsible for change, whether it be mental health workers, politicians, the military, financial institutions, and the technological corporations? This world's problems are complicated and change will be a convoluted process. But transformation is possible - we can see this when we look back at our history... It may start with changing the climate inside ourselves. The Dalai Lama once said that peace starts with the individual. Examining the spiraling array of questions that haunt me about gun violence and children doesn't feel like it's bringing me peace at this moment, but I have a hunch that offering these thoughts up to my fellow beings for their reflection is a peaceful act. I wish the best for all humans no matter what landscape they inhabit, and I'm convinced that speaking my truth is one important step to take to help bring about change. Please join me: think on these painful subjects -- they are very real and deserve our attention -- and at the same time let your heart soften and remind you that love, not guns, is the most powerful tool we have.