Like many of you, I spent last weekend crying as I read the front page. What happened in Sandy Hook is beyond the insignificant word, “tragedy.” The conversation following the tragedy is beyond the insignificant word, “petty.” I nearly deleted my Facebook page as I read comment after comment that dripped with ignorance. I was compelled to “unfriend” a number of Facebook “friends” due to their seeming unwillingness to recognize reality.
And of what reality do I speak?
The reality that something is wrong. Very wrong.
I do not believe that banning guns is the answer. I do not believe that locking up the mentally ill is the answer. I do not believe that metal detectors at the door of every school in America is the answer. But I do feel I have an answer. The answer is a moral revolution – akin to the one of which Dr. King and Harriet Beecher Stowe spoke. A revolution in which evil and injustice are attacked – not our fellow brothers and sisters who commit these acts. In short – this revolution asks that we seek out the root causes of our societal ills, address them, and fight to overturn their causes.
As I sit here this morning in Walnut Hills – merely blocks from where Stowe lived – at my desk in a school in an urban environment, I can’t help but wonder where along the way we got lost. In fact, every single day that I enter my office to help children find their voice and meaning in their lives, I wonder where along the way we got lost.
There is a way to help stop the violence. That way is a difficult path that asks each and every one of us to get over our own sense of self-worth and begin to prioritize the “other.” Speaking as a white, male, heterosexual, middle class, 34 year old – I can tell you that my society has been conveniently set up for me to succeed. Reaching out to women, minorities, homosexuals and (most importantly) children of all walks of life, has driven my life’s work for twelve years. The longer we look away, the longer the violence will carry on. As Roger Waters tells us, there has to be “no more turning away” if we are to make a significant dent in this society of ours.
Education. That’s the key. Reallocation of public school funding – a better national understanding of mental illness – gun reform in the most logical manner (e.g., not even allowing semi-automatic handguns to be purchased – only hunting rifles and the like) – and incentivizing helping others – creating a society where doing GOOD is easier than doing BAD. Bad is easy in our society. It is easy to steal and cheat to get ahead. In fact, it is often rewarded (see “white collar crime”). When the vulnerable in our society attempt to get their “piece of the pie” by stealing and cheating and the like, they are punished. The rules only favor a few. This subjective rule implementation creates desperation among our country’s vulnerable.
Desperation – vulnerability – a failing economy – unbalanced education funding – access to deadly weapons – all of these things contribute to a national consciousness that embraces and rewards violence. Every once and a while that violence leeks into our schools, communities and movie theaters. We have had TWO mass-public shootings this year. Something is wrong with our national subconscious. People are cracking up. I see it on the microcosmic level every day in the desperation born out of poverty on the faces of children in my city. I see it nationally in small towns in Connecticut.
No amount of legislation will even come close to ebbing the pain of the families in Newtown – but it may serve to ebb future pain that never needs to be felt. Perhaps beginning with stricter gun control and then moving on to having the difficult discussions of how to create a society where all may achieve their true potential is a good first step. Furthermore – maybe the conversations in DC should not revolve around saving a few bucks by stripping charitable contribution benefits – or even revising them – but working toward a country where the Not For Profit (NFP) sector does not have to be as large as it is. That would be a conversation of which I would like to be a part. Is there any concern that the 3rd Sector, the NFP sector, is the 4th largest employer in the country? Yes, that looks great, but who does the NFP sector serve? Oftentimes, it is the indigent and the ailing. What if we looked at proactively heading off desperation and illness and then not even have to discuss the charitable deduction issue?
Complicated issues require complicated solutions. These solutions are not comfortable, but they are far more comfortable than the loss of 20 smiling children’s faces. This loss is something that, I admit, I cannot handle. I cannot handle 20 children being gunned down in school in the wealthiest country in the world. I cannot handle that, in 2010, 7.3 million children did not have health care in the wealthiest country in the world. I cannot handle that mental illness and the media are held up as scape goats every time something tragic happens in the wealthiest country in the world instead of discussing the root causes of evil in our country – namely, perhaps, that we are the wealthiest country in the world. Perhaps we all need to re-read Zinn’s People’s History of the United States to remind ourselves exactly how we got here in the first place. Violence.
I can handle change. I can handle difficult decisions. I can handle ruffling feathers. I can handle peace. And I can handle working myself to the bone until the day I die until something changes – at least until the national conversation begins with the statement, “We realize something is wrong and we are committed to making it right.”
Much love and condolences to the families in Newtown. For my part, I will not be quiet until a few of these things get set straight in Cincinnati and, ideally, nationally.