I hate guns. I hate that we experience so much gun violence. I am angry and disappointed that our leaders allow themselves to be bought by lobbyists instead of having real and painful conversations about the devastation that is caused by gun violence in this country. But I don’t think guns are the problem.
I am dismayed at the state of our political system and I am saddened by the annual increase of the divisive and hateful “win at all costs” strategy of many politicians regardless of party. But I don’t think politics and politicians are the problem.
I could go on and on with this exercise but I have to go vote and get to work so I’ll cut to the chase: I think we are the problem. All of us. Our need to be right, our need to be better than someone else, our ego, our American exceptionalism, our lack of civic pride or engagement, our unwillingness to see the humanity in others no matter how fervently we disagree, our willingness to accept the idea that we are not part of the problem and therefore can’t be part of the solution. Our individualistic ideas that we can pick and choose who and what to care about. The unwillingness to look deep inside and ask ourselves “what could I be doing differently?” The faulty logic that we are not all connected, that we are not all part of each other. The dust of the Universe came together to create us all and until we stop seeing each other as separate we won’t be able to see what is true about the potential solutions. You don’t have to agree with or condone bad behavior to see the humanity in another person. It might help to try and see their pain.
That man killed those people in that church on Sunday because he was a sad, hopeless, violent, broken person. Guns are a problem. No doubt. But the bigger problem is how disposable people are in our society. We will write him off as one of “those people” who is not like us and wring our hands about what someone else should be doing about it. How about finding the good in a person before they are completely lost to their own despair and hopelessness? That takes a lot of time and energy and we as Americans have been sent a message that it’s someone else’s job to clean-up those messes after they happen. And that is wrong. What’s true is that is it our job collectively to do everything we can to make sure those messes don’t happen in the first place. It’s hard. But it is the key.
As a single society of diverse people and ideas – whether we like it or not – we can each choose to agreed to one single collective idea that could change everything and make things better for everyone. For the good of our public safety, economic development, and standing in the world, we could agree to not let people be discarded. Not the poor African American woman on welfare with more kids than she can care for many of whom are statistically likely to end up in prison or dead; not the coal miner’s kid whose job prospects have all but died and opioids and white supremacy feel like the only salvation; not the Muslim kid who grew up being called Al Quaeda and turned that hate into a self-fulfilling prophecy by joining ISIS, the teens who are cutting and over-dosing and committing suicide in record numbers, or the millions of others who live in the margins everyday with little hope or connection to the larger world and who understand in some deep and ineffable place in their hearts and subconscious that we are not doing this right. We are not living right. Being alive is about more than jobs, healthcare, and the economy and yet when you don’t have enough that’s all you can think about and when it never seems to get better no matter how hard you work hopelessness eventually takes hold. How can we put the power back into our own hands? What is possible in our world to help us understand that individual people have done great things in the world and we are not beholden to systems that no longer work. And the excuse that the other party holds the power should not be an excuse. We hold the power.
I vote democrat – I know that’s not a surprise and I will today across the ticket – but I believe that whether you are liberal or conservative you are complicit in the truth that we have become far too good at disposing of people. We place more value in our lives on the size of our televisions than we do on making sure people aren’t discarded. When someone doesn’t fit the mold we ignore them or label them or leave it to someone else to fix them. The fact is that we could all be doing more to put Hope into this world. To help people feel that they aren’t invisible and without value. That is not a partisan issue it is a human issue around which we can all come together. Vote. Yes. Organize. Yes. But also talk to each other, meet people who look different than you, give more than you ever have to organizations doing this work in our communities. Hope is hard to restore once it’s lost. No one is born evil or without the capacity to love or feel empathy. People are made that way over time.
If the issue with mass shootings and opioid addiction in our country is growing then the answer can’t be just to remove the destructive tool from the hands of the destructive person but more a question of what is putting them in that position to be destructive to begin with. I don’t believe it’s just a gun or a mental health problem. I believe it’s a problem that goes far deeper into the psyche of American society. We need to start looking inside – all of us – asking ourselves very difficult questions and getting real about the role we all play in finding solutions to our collective problems. Blaming each other is obviously not working.