Like many others, I find myself emotionally charged right now in the aftermath of yet another mass school shooting. Everyone is arguing over gun control and I’m literally getting a headache thinking through all of it. I like to think of myself as an open-minded person, and when it comes to the topic of gun control, I know that I have not done sufficient research to convince myself whether or not banning “assault rifles” would truly be effective in reducing mass murders long-term. Also, I know next to nothing about firearms, the many different kinds, and their wide range of uses (and unfortunately, neither do most lawmakers or citizens who staunchy defend their uneducated opinions). Simply put, I am not educated enough to truly have a worthwhile opinion on the whole topic. My biggest concern is the enormous possibility that a semi-automatic weapons ban will not reduce violence. Violence will simply find another outlet.
I read a brief, yet thought-provoking article today on how the “blame games” contribute to the acceptance of violence in our culture (https://thelibertyreview.com/polarization-following-mass-shootings-has-become-part-of-the-problem/). This article reflects many of my own ideas. My view on how society addresses many of it’s cultural ills can be summed up in a Thoreau quote:
“There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.”
-Henry David Thoreau
Several years ago I had a massive showdown with a patch of thorny puckerbrush. It’s one of those obnoxious plants that will keep growing back no matter how many times you cut it down. You must uproot the whole thing to kill it. As long as there is root in the ground, it will continue to grow back.
I believe that well-meaning gun control legislation is merely hacking at a branch. I’m not going to say it isn’t helpful because I don’t know. Sometimes you have to cut at branches before you can even reach a root. But we must not fool ourselves into thinking that gun control is the ultimate solution. We cannot focus all efforts into legislation and then breathe a sigh of relief when it passes. All we’ve done is hack off a branch. Another branch will grow in its place. Those who desire to harm others will simply find another way to do so.
We need to find the root. We need to explore the reasons for why our culture is currently a breeding ground for such hate and violence. Why is there so much unrest? Why is there so much despair? What causes a young man to become so detached from love that he feels the need to kill? How have we, as a society and individuals, contributed to a culture that produces such a violent human being?
I happened to read a few sentences of an account by one of the survivors of this latest massacre. At one point she stated, “…don’t humanize him,” (referring to the killer). Reading that broke my heart. This statement is cutting me so deeply because it reveals the massive disconnect we have in our culture. That killer IS a human. He is one of US. This sort of behavior is a product of humanity, a product of the culture and reality we’ve created.
It’s automatic for us to separate ourselves, to disconnect from someone who is so obviously horrible and to call him “inhuman”. However, the potential for horrendous evil lies within everyone of us, and I think most of us don’t want to admit that. It’s terrifying. But in dissociating from those who get caught in darkness, we actually dull our awareness of the dark areas in our own hearts that desperately need the light of love.
“Do you hate him because he’s pieces of you?”
We are all guilty of feeding and grooming the beast. We are all responsible for the division in our country. We demonize those who don’t agree with us. Our version of “Be the change you want to see in the world,” is to demand everyone else be the change we want to see in the world. We chant “Love Trumps Hate!” while day-dreaming the president gets assasinated. We preach tolerance but want to hang anyone who we deem intolerant. We know things need to change, but we keep pointing the finger at everyone and everything else. At what point will we finally take responsibility for our part in this mess? At what point will we realize that distancing ourselves from those we fear and misunderstand only further divides us and generates hatred? At what point will I finally stop preaching to the crowd and instead, examine my own heart and the places I’ve harbored hate and fear and pain?
When will I discover the outside war is just a reflection of the war going on inside of me?
“We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.”
It’s true: love is the answer.
We must learn to love ourselves and each other. Learning to truly love myself has been the hardest challenge of my life. For so long, I was afraid of my own darkness, of the deep shadows within my soul. I heard the angry growls of a monster deep within. But once I shone a light in the darkness, I discovered not a monster, but a wounded heart in need of compassion and understanding.
A wound that is not tended will fester and become angry. A wounded animal can become very dangerous. The saying is true: hurting people hurt people.
When someone hurts us, we retreat and disconnect. That disconnection is a wound in itself. That’s what having our “feelings hurt” is about. And when we don’t know how to tend our wounds, we disconnect from them. When we disconnect from our wounds, we disconnect from that part of ourselves that was wounded. We lose ourselves.
I think it is this hellish internal disconnection that causes us to disconnect from one another. For some, the disconnection takes a violent form. Those who feel disconnected from others feel no remorse killing them. as they are merely acting out in the physical what they feel in the spiritual. However, most of us don’t kill one another. For many of us, we simply withhold love from one another. When we find our wounds and darkness being reflected at us from another, we are so triggered that we quickly make that person/group our scapegoat. We think they are the problem. If we get rid of them, then that will fix everything.
But it’s just hacking at branches. It’s just pruning a bush that will only grow back with a vengence.
I’m not the smartest person in the world. I don’t have many answers. The problems we face are complex, and certainly require a variety of solutions. But I do know one thing: we need to learn how to connect with our own hearts and with one another. We need to stop viewing the other side of the debate as being the enemy. We even need to stop viewing mass murderers and terrorists as the enemy. We need to see them as one of us. We need to treat every human being, whether lovable or unlovable, as an extension of ourselves. We’re not going to survive if we keep disconnecting and dividing. We all need each other.
Ultimately, love is the only thing that is going to save us.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
-Martin Luther King, Jr.
May we listen to one another with tender ears
May we see one another with unfiltered vision
May our shoulders help bear one another’s burdens
And may we love one another with open, fearless hearts
And may we recognize that, ultimately, we are all one, and that what we do for another, we do for ourselves. A little compassion and understanding can go a long, long way.