I know a lot of people will cry out for more gun control, and I totally agree with this sentiment. If any one of the shooters of the last year had not had access to guns, the death toll would be significantly reduced. Maybe to zero. Twenty children would still get to open their Christmas presents. I have been an advocate for gun control since I became politically conscious. Rachel Maddow, one of my favorite TV commentators, had a segment last night about how even members of the NRA believe in certain controls on guns. No one I know wants to take away our 2nd amendment, just keep guns out of the hands of people who will go around shooting into crowds. But just because we have a right, doesn't make it right. I think most of us don't own guns, and those who do own hunting rifles or hand guns. But why does anyone need to own a gun designed to rapid fire many rounds at a time? They don't. Plain and simple.
Still, this has bigger ramifications than merely gun control. No sane person grabs four automatic guns and enters a school with the intent to kill people. We are a world of troubled souls and damaged minds. Yes, we need better mental health care, for sure. Good mental health care is essential. I have lived with depression for most of my life. It has not been fun. I have been on meds for some ten or twelve years now, and that has made my life so much better. I'm sure it has helped people around me be happier too. I know I was not my best self, not even close. And I have a supportive, loving husband. So if it took me decades to get the help I needed even with all the support I had, how many people who need mental health care don't have that support network?
A couple of decades ago, due to budget cuts, mental health patients got ousted onto the streets. Was it worth it, folks? Wouldn't you have rather paid more taxes in order to help these people rather than have a rising death count. Disclaimer: I am well aware that not all crazy shooters have even been in the health care system. Which brings me to my next point. People with mental health issues are all around us, seemingly functional. Hiding it well. We cannot, and should not, ignore them. When someone comes into your life who clearly needs help, help them. I work with teenagers, and many of them have lives that would make any of us cringe, and they need to know that someone in this world cares about them, loves them, will come when they ask for help. Be that to someone. It might not be a teen. It might be a co-worker, a spouse even. Our society does not make it easy to be a person who doesn't fit the mold. That hurts. Try to move out of your comfort zone and include someone different. It might save some lives, even if it's only the one life of that person.
People of my parents' generation, and indeed even my own generation, will lament that our world grows more evil all the time. I disagree. There was Hitler, Stalin, the Inquisition, Jack the Ripper. Even less infamous people throughout human existence have brought death and evil with them. No, the world is not worse than ever. I think we deceive ourselves if we think this way. Part of what is different, though, is the 24 hour media that has to report on every single second of our lives. Every day, the newspaper if filled with gruesome stories of man's inhumanity to man. It may seem worse than in past decades and centuries, but that's only because we are privy to the images, the words, the knowledge of all of it. A hundred years ago, Boise, where I live, was a relatively isolated place, far from most of civilization. I doubt people here ever heard news of much that happened elsewhere.
Here's the part I think disturbs us most: We allow it all. I remember as a kid I loved reading stories about brave people in the face of the Nazis. I wondered how the rest of the world could have let Hitler get away with killing six million people. The common response to that question was, "We didn't know." We don't have that excuse now, with our constant media circus. We know. All of it. And we do nothing. This is the society we have created. Not the president. Not the congress. Not the governors. Us.
And that is the scariest reality, because we know, deep down, that any one of us has the same capacity for evil acts as the next person. I'm not saying this from a preachy, we're-all-sinners, kind of view point. I'm saying we all have shadow sides, which we mostly like to keep hidden and not think about. We like to pretend that we would never do such horrible things. Yet we allow them to happen every day. We tut-tut and go about our business as if we are not complicit. But we are. Every act is part of us. All humanity is connected.
And that's the good thing, too. All humanity is connected. That means our grief is shared. We hold each other through tragedy. The shadow side lurks and ruins, but the side of light is miraculously evident, too. We are constantly amazing and wonderful, even as we are atrocious and horrible. Perhaps if we stopped running from the truth about ourselves, perhaps if we embraced all that is human in us, we might find our way to an answer. If we feared ourselves less, we might fear each other less. We might reach out in compassion more. We might be able to let go of us-them thinking and remember that we are we.
I wrote two poems this week. One I already posted on facebook, but here it is again. Followed by a poem version of this essay. I believe the only way to change our world is to change ourselves and how we interact with each other. Caring for those whom society deems outcasts. The poor, the disabled, the left out, the homeless, the crazy ones, the lesser-thans. The least of these.