I wrote this in the first hour of hearing about the events in San Bernardino, before we know what we know now, not that it would have changed what I wrote. Whether it’s San Bernardino, or Sandy Hook, or Virginia Tech, or gang violence in your own hometown, here are my thoughts.
When we were little my sister had a small teddy bear she cuddled with when she took naps. She held on to that stuffed animal for years. His fur was worn in several places, he’d long since lost one of his plastic ebony eyes, one ear had fallen off only to be reattached with a safety pin. Seams were splitting, stuffing came loose.
That’s us right now. We’re coming apart at the seams. Our stuffing is escaping, our fur is patchy, and we’re holding on to parts with safety pins. It happened slowly, over many years of wear and tear, and then all at once. We pick up guns against one another. Against those we don’t know, sometimes those we do, often those we only think we know. Those who represent something that hurts us or offends us or angers us. Or maybe we’re just having a bad day.
We have so much pent up energy manifesting as anger that somehow we convince ourselves the best course of action, perhaps the only course, lies at the end of an assault rifle, that we acquired legally or otherwise, for a purpose I can’t possibly imagine. Except that perhaps this was the purpose all along. To annihilate some strangers in such a manner that would surely lead to our own annihilation.
I’m not sure what the answer is. In fact, I’m still struggling to come up with what the real question is. When something like this happens – which, I hope we can agree, is too damn often – our dialog becomes hyper-polarized.
- Get rid of all the guns.
- If someone had been carrying a gun, this wouldn’t have happened.
- It’s mental illness.
- It’s the media.
To and fro, back and forth, like children on a seesaw in an abandoned playground. It doesn’t go anywhere. We pray, hold vigils, pour our hearts out to the victims and their families, update our profile pictures on Facebook. And once we’ve expressed enough good will, as though somehow these kind, heartfelt gestures will return the world’s sense of goodness back to balance, we resume our lives, including our old conversations that are safe and comfortable.
We lack the attention span to focus on difficult problems like this one. We can only hold one idea in tension at a time. We can only have one problem, and that one problem can only have one solution.
It seems we’ve lost the ability to have reasonable, effective discourse anymore. Conversations are fraught with attacks and accusations that all but ensure no action, compromise, fundamental change or progress will take place. The more important the issue is, the less capable we seem.
We cling to old ideas and old ways, just like my sister did with her bear. She hung on for so long, perhaps imagining him in better times when his eyes were shiny, fur full and fluffy. But no amount of imagining was to make it so.