In the wake of the horrible tragedy at the Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newton, Connecticut, it may be time to reflect on our responsibilities as a society. No matter our role, we all have an individual and collective responsibility in how we respond to tragedies of this magnitude. Certainly our hearts, thoughts, prayers and support go out to all those who were involved. Our responsibility extends beyond this, to respond in a way that doesn’t muddle this tragedy with irrelevant statistics, media exploitation, the marketing of predatory profit-driven programs, lesson plans and literature and/or organizations and individuals that see this as an opportunity to promote their ideology and philosophy or simply to gain recognition.
While many programs and organizations are well-meaning and have trained professionals and techniques that can be helpful, perhaps the community of Sandy Hook Elementary School and Newton, Connecticut does not need to look outside their local community for answers; answers that may never fully come. When a tragedy such as this hits, we all search for answers. We want to know why, how, what if and now what? It may be that we have to quell our natural inclination to jump in and attempt to quickly answer these questions in the hopes that we will finally solve the problem so that a tragedy like this does not happen again.
The wavelengths have been flooded over the past few days with social media posts (yes, this is one of them), media frenzy, rallying cries and comments from entertainers, politicians and citizens. Much of this comes from a desire to ensure the safety of our citizens, and still some comes from the very real need to express ourselves. In some sense it almost doesn’t matter where it comes from because our responsibility is still the same. We have to be responsible for our words, thoughts and actions and take this responsibility seriously. Whether we are posting on social media, commenting in social gatherings, organizing some sort of action, weighing in with our opinion or some other form of expression, our words and actions have power. They eventually become things. Even though we may not want to be in this position, once we put these out there into the consciousness, it can become an example that someone follows or a concept they internalize.
So when they are posts like “God, how come you didn’t stop the tragedy or why do you allow so much violence in our schools?” then God answers, “Because I’m not allowed in schools.” We have to be responsible enough to consider the multiple layers of this message, especially when it comes on the heels of such a tragedy. Can any of us ensure that a 5-, 6-, 7-year-old student from Sandy Hook Elementary won’t blame him or herself for what happened because they go to a school that “doesn’t allow God” in it?
We all have beliefs, rituals, traditions and causes we feel strongly about, and in most cases do not seek to further these from an insidious mindset. Whether we raise the issue of gun control, violence in schools, school safety, psychotropic drugs, nutrition, god in schools, civil liberties, parenting and the state of our society, it is our responsibility to do so in such a way as to be open to consider that whether we get the exact outcome we want with regard to all the issues that are important to us, this still may not have been prevented or may never be. It is our collective and individual responsibility to ensure that our words and actions are examples we would be proud to have our young people emulate.
We search and search for an individual, institution, philosophy, law or political party to put the responsibility on. Some argue that tougher gun laws would do the trick, some say it’s the policy of the Democrats or the Republicans, while others retort it’s the parents’ fault or the school’s fault for not having better security or that it may have even been a result of psychotropic drugs or nutritional deficiencies. Exploring any and all of these areas can yield great results and advancements. What would happen if we approached these with an open mind and from careful observation and reflection rather than knee-jerk reactions that result in blanket policies that ultimately fail anyway?
Do we really want a society where our teachers are armed, adding to what they must contend with on a daily basis? Do we really want to say that belief in God means the same thing to everyone, and if it doesn’t, children will be punished? Do we really want to make it mandatory that students talk about this tragedy? Do we really want to ban the use of all guns except for military and law enforcement? Do we really want guns in the hands of people who obtain them legally who are not trained to use them safely, even though we realize some people get guns illegally? Do we really want for our children to observe and internalize the ways in which supporters of political parties attack each other and distort the truth in order to do so? Do we really want our schools to become places in which every student, parent, staff member or visitor is subject to a full body scan?
Do we instead want to take our responsibility seriously enough to recognize that this horrific tragedy is multi-layered, fraught with complex questions, may not have quick-fix answers and that the ultimate responsibility rests with the perpetrator?