Like many people, I’m reeling from the events in Connecticut yesterday. So many unnecessary deaths - it's a tragedy of epic proportions. I think it’s a normal part of human nature to wonder why things like this happen, and to look for someone or something to blame because it helps maintain our fantasy that we have complete control over what happens in our world and in our lives.
However, there’s a fine line between wanting to figure out what happened and why, and identifying blame. It reminds me of a scene from the musical Into the Woods where all the characters are arguing with each other, trying to figure out who's to blame for the death of the baker’s wife. You can watch that scene here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=47U9icfjr6o. At the end of the scene, they all decide the blame belongs to the witch, but does that really help anything? The baker’s wife is still dead, and the giant is still coming.
By focusing on blame rather than understanding, each of us is left picking sides. We’re attacking each others' ideas and values rather than trying to understand what happened and how we can prevent it. And by picking an idea or value to attack, we lose sight of the multidimensional nature of a problem like this one. It becomes about “gun control” or “mental health” – leaving no room to consider how many different factors might have intermingled in the creation of these events. The difference between blame and seeking understanding is compassion - and compassion is a very difficult thing to hold on to when we’re hurt and angry.
Compassion, in this case, needs to start with the shooter. Don’t misunderstand me - I’m not in any way suggesting that his actions should be condoned. But in some sad and twisted way, his actions are understandable. Our job now is to learn what we can about how he ended up in the place where he did, and identify points along the way where someone could have intervened to keep him from following his path to the bitter and tragic end. And when we understand those points, we as a society can choose to band together and create a different environment than what the shooter encountered, and help the next person at risk in this way choose a different path.
We still don’t know a lot about the shooter or his journey. The information I’ve read and heard has pointed to a couple of key areas where we as a society fall down in supporting each other. Should there be stricter (or just different?) regulations about who can purchase guns, and what kinds of guns the average citizen can purchase? Maybe. Should there be more support out there for folks who have mental illness, particularly to help screen for undiagnosed mental illness? Absolutely. Should we work towards de-glorifying the shooter in media coverage of events like these? Yeah, I think so.
One thing I haven’t heard anyone talk about, though, is the role that our society’s lack of community has played in these recent events. The disconnection between people who should be connected. It used to be that we lived in small villages, communities and tribes where everyone knew each other and looked out for each other. People didn’t get “missed” the way they do now. There was no such thing as losing contact with someone for years at a time, only to have them resurface later. But that happens now, and that happened to the shooter. If his community had been plugged into him, someone might have seen changes in him and might have been able to reach out to help. The shooter might not have felt so desperately sad and alone that the only solution he felt he had was to make a big enough splash to get noticed - by killing innocent children and adults.
No matter what we do, there is no way we will be able to completely eliminate pain and human suffering. As much as I think it’s an ideal to strive for (and I do), problems will arise. People will make mistakes and bad choices that we can’t prevent or foresee. Rather than interpreting this as “evil”, as I’ve seen some do, understand that this is reality. We are not perfect creatures who can be in control of every aspect of life. And we would not want to live in a world where other people tried to control every aspect of our lives.
The best we can do is mourn the losses of the innocents, and learn.