Tragedy Fosters Compassion

It’s been a week since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary but even with the passage of time and my distinct lack of connection to anyone involved, I can’t shake the thoughts and feelings that keep flowing through me. It’s for that reason I’m turning to blogging. This isn’t because I think the world needs to hear my voice because I have all of the answers. I will assure you that I don’t. This is because my brain won’t stop buzzing and thinking about this topic and writing is the only true way to clear my head.

Here goes nothing.

When this massacre happened, I immediately felt disgusted and angry. I wept. I cried for these little children who had been brutally slain for no purpose. I’m not sure if it was just their age, or that Connecticut is much closer to home than where many other events like this have occurred, but I can say that I was distraught. This feeling lasted for days. When the public began crying out for gun laws and mental health care, I couldn’t break thought from these families and their suffering. How does one come back from losing a child in such a sudden and horrific way? How does a child learn, understand, and cope with their classmates no longer being in their class?

I felt that although the focus was on what’s wrong, we all really could have used that time to give that community a massive hug and tell them that we’re there for them. Instead of outrage (which I know is fully justified), we could have used some compassion. I don’t think calling for new laws carries that same sentiment quite like saying “I care.”

I donated money to a counseling center in Newtown. They serve that community today and they will serve that community when the media has long forgotten that those people effected still suffer.

Never for a second did I think that donating money was enough to help these people. It felt like honestly the least I could do outside of Tweet about the tragedy. I thought about taking a day off of work to volunteer somehow. Somehow, could I do something that would help comfort someone? But their needs are probably for mental health counselors, of which I’m not one, and was swayed from volunteering. I still do not know if that was the right choice. I regret it as I sit here typing this. I think I want to help both for them to know that someone does care about them in a real and honest way but also because I’m having such a hard time with this so I can only imagine how hard it is for them.

The positive thing about this is that it’s not too late. I can still help (we all can, really). In fact, it might be better to wait. When the spot light has shifted to the next news story, that is when they will need the extra love and care the most.

As a country wide community, we collectively ponder solutions to this issue. As I’ve been feeling all of these things, I’ve also been thinking about changes that would need to occur in this country in order for these events to even just happen less often.

I, too, have thought about gun laws, mental health care, and media coverage. I’ve thought about how the time I’ve grown up is somewhat unprecedented in the way of school shootings. Columbine happened when I was in 8th grade, and not even two weeks later, there was a threat in my own school. It thankfully never materialized but it was taken quite seriously considering the news frenzy.

Columbine wasn’t new, of course. I didn’t grow up in a more violent time if you look at the history of school shootings. School shootings happened just as often before now. They just hadn’t happened in a world with 24-hour news stations.

Not only are school shootings happening, but they’re happening under a microscope. As soon as it’s reported, news crews are on the scene trying to get their scoop and get their ratings. They’re interviewing children hours after they may have seen horrific things so that they can get the sympathy viewers. There’s a point when journalism stops being that and turns into a ploy for more profits by getting the most horrific details of children murdered that you can. That’s what these children have turned into. It’s deeply sad.

We would be negligent as a culture to not examine ourselves after this tragedy and guns and mental health care are some of the most difficult topics to puncture in our culture. We’re supposed to have guns according to the second amendment and we’re supposed to be strong enough to not need help. It harkens back to the days of picking ourselves up by our bootstraps. If you work hard enough, anything can be yours in America.

Except sometimes we change. Sometimes we learn more. Sometimes we develop weapons that the founding fathers didn’t even dream of when writing about the need for a militia. Sometimes we figure out the human brain just a little–enough to realize that it’s hard to sort out our mental space on our own sometimes.

My view of gun ownership has always been shaped by having been raised around them. Hunting and target practice were common things in my family and I know the power guns hold because I’ve wielded one at a paper target. I’ve felt the kick and seen how deep those bullets can burrow in to stacks of logs. It’s probably been more than a decade since I handled or shot a weapon (yes, I was a minor but safety was always paramount) but I’m not inherently afraid of them when they lay dormant.

With that bit of background: I do think now is a time to discuss guns in our culture. I’m not saying that prohibition would work (it didn’t for alcohol and it isn’t working for drugs) because I think it would make things worse. I am saying that we should talk about it. We should talk about how gun owners have a responsibility to keep their weapons secure and out of the hands of others to their best ability. We should talk about how some cartridges simply carry more ammunition than you need to kill a deer. We should talk about hollow-point bullets that are designed to cause the most damage as they cut into and rip apart the target’s flesh.

I’ve heard others speak about other countries who don’t have guns with incredibly low crime rates. Or even places where gun ownership is widespread and they also have low crime rates. I want to say that we have to examine our own laws and treatment of weapons but we also need to know that these laws don’t happen in a vacuum. I don’t think America could adopt a carbon copy of another country’s gun laws and have the same result just because it works somewhere else. Why? Because of our culture.

Guns are part of our founding documents and an inherent part of our culture as a result. I understand that and not wanting them erased completely. But we also have to recognize how much our country has evolved since its inception. We have more powerful firearms and we need to moderate it a bit to do our best to prevent the worst of the worst. It won’t stop gun violence–I’m not sure we ever could in America. The best we can hope at first is to get some type of handle on things. Terrible events have always happened so they will keep happening but we can act like we care about preventing them.

Guns are not the only thing we need to talk about. I’m a big sponsor of mental health care and reducing the stigma of seeking therapy or having any type of mental illness. I think the reason why after a tragedy like this we’re focusing on mental health is because on so many levels and in so many ways, we want to believe that no rational “sane” adult could do something like this. I understand that. It’s hard to figure out how someone could be so cold to murder children.

I also know that there’s massive potential to create more of a stigma against mental health care because of that. If the shooter was insane or crazy and we’re assuming he had some mental illness, are all mentally ill people insane? We, as a culture, should really be careful not to cross that threshold.

In my own life, I’ve received counseling (or therapy, whatever term you prefer). I spoke with a woman every week for the past year. I’ve recently stopped going because we mutually agreed that I didn’t need it as much and had greatly improved in areas where I was struggling, but I hadn’t told many people this. I wasn’t mentally ill. I never took medication or was diagnosed with anything. I just had to talk some things out and get life in order and sometimes that’s what mental health care is. Why, then, does it feel like some giant secret to keep for fear that others will think that maybe I’m crazy? I’m not. Even mentally ill people are not. Somehow we have that idea, though, and it makes it hard to talk openly about the realities of mental health care. It’s up to us, those who’ve had great success, to speak about how we’re not crazy, so that’s why I’m even mentioning it.

Sometimes mental health means dealing with depression or bipolar or schizophrenia. Sometimes it’s handling a tough year or a betrayal by a friend or rediscovering one’s true self. It covers such a range that I firmly think there’s a time in everyone’s life where they could benefit from talking things out. Mentally ill or not, it’s healthy to have an impartial party to just be there to support you.

I’m not going to say that I think the murderer was mentally ill because I don’t know and I can’t diagnose a dead man. But I do think it’d probably have been good for him to talk to someone because I think it’s good for all of us to talk to someone if we’re having a tough time.

Would he have talked to someone if given the chance? I can’t even begin to speculate on that. But what if we didn’t brand all users of mental health care as mentally ill? What if there wasn’t a stigma against saying you’re in therapy? What if it was much like how people go for physical therapy after breaking their wrist and it was just a thing people did to get better? Maybe then we’d be able to talk more openly about the times when we’ve sought help. Maybe if we all admitted that we need help sometimes, it’d be easier to talk about.

All too often, the common response is to just get over it. It goes back to the bootstraps mentality that we have. That mentality got us a long way but there are some times when it’s no longer applicable. If we could all just imagine ourselves better and it would work, we wouldn’t need health care at all. Not everything is a self fulfilling prophecy. I mean, some things are. Some things definitely are. Depression isn’t but compassion is.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time working on myself in the last year and realizing that compassion towards others is something that we all too often forget. We’re all so quick to anger that there leaves no room for caring and that’s the major piece of our culture that I wish I could fix.

We all have situations and people that make us angry. That’s a given. But road rage? Being rude to a cashier? Getting flustered when the number you dial returns someone rude? If we all practiced a little more compassion towards fellow strangers, we could shift from this trend of anger towards a bit more caring and understanding.

This shooting didn’t happen in a vacuum. It happened in our culture and we’re the only ones who can fix it. If we can’t have open discourse about all of this, then I don’t think we can recover. That’s not saying this is too far beyond what we can fix. Quite different, actually. If we can talk openly without being insulting to each other, we will be able to put our collective heads together to come up with the ways, bit by bit, to be better.

Let’s cultivate compassion. Let’s work together. Let’s find ways to be Americans with differing opinions that can see that our goals are all the same. I hope we can all agree that this needs solutions.

For Sandy Hook

As we all realize the political impact of the terrible events yesterday in Newtown, CT, let’s not forget the suffering that’s being endured at this very moment by that community. They will feel this today, tomorrow, on Christmas, and for years to come. So let’s help them. Here are a few easy ways to donate to their community. I’ve donated. Can you spare a little? (If there are other easy donation channels, please let me know in the comments.)

Newtown Youth & Family Services provides counseling: http://www.newtownyouthandfamilyservices.org/donate.php

The United Way of Western Connecticut: https://newtown.uwwesternct.org

Donate teddy bears: http://www.acorn-online.com/joomla15/thebridgeportnews/news/localnews/134843-donate-teddy-bears-for-the-children-of-newtown.html

Edit:

Here’s another. Regional Hospice and Home Care of Western Connecticut. They provide grief counseling for families and children: http://regionalhospicect.org/donate/