I went to work yesterday. I work every day, but yesterday I actually put on some professional clothes and went to the Brilliant Star office. I was excited about it, too. A day away from the moppets, a day spending time with my wonderful friends and co-workers, a day doing important, fulfilling work.
The theme for the issue we were brainstorming was “Building Communities of Hope.” What a wonderful, inspiring topic. As we discussed what that theme might entail, several societal issues were brought up, among them the barriers to racial healing.
One of my insightful colleagues pointed out that people often think of certain neighborhoods (almost exclusively associated with certain races and socioeconomic groups) as being unsafe because of drugs and violence, when drugs and violence are often just as prevalent in more affluent, whiter communities. The majority of mass school shootings have been in the latter. We talked about Columbine as an example.
Then one of us got a text about the Connecticut school shootings.
Then we started getting more details.
My God, kindergarteners?
Like the rest of the country, we had a hard time focusing on work for the rest of the day. Trying to figure out how much of the tragedy to let sink in. Trying to imagine what it would be like if it were our children (then trying to unimagine it). Trying to fight back tears of compassion. Trying to make sense of a senseless act of violence against the most innocent and vulnerable among us. Trying to figure out what to do with the sadness, fear, and anger that any warm-blooded human feels after hearing of children being killed.
Driving home, my head swarmed with all kinds of thoughts. I share them here uncensored in all their raw disjointedness:
A person of faith calls upon God for guidance, comfort, solace, and understanding in times like these. My faith in the goodness of humanity still stands. My faith in God and His infinite love remain unfazed. If something like the Holocaust or Rwanda or any other massacre involving children doesn’t shake one’s faith, one messed up person with a semi-automatic weapon certainly isn’t going to.
Visions of parents waiting outside the school to find out if their children are among the living or dead keep floating through my mind. I can’t fathom it. No parent can fathom it.
Then more unfathomable visions of the suffering and murder and senseless deaths of children around the world start popping into my head. We feel the despair of this school incident so fiercely because it happened in our own backyard. In our safe little corner of the world where we don’t fear for our children’s lives every day. These children were our children.
But aren’t we one human family? Aren’t all children our children? Is it right to feel so much despair for these children and families today when there are innocent children starving to death, being trafficked for unimaginable purposes, being abused and neglected by people who are supposed to take care of them today, too? When there are mothers and fathers in every corner of the globe who have legitimate reason to believe they won’t see their children grow up?
Is that just too much to let in? Can we really have that much empathy without it crushing us completely?
What’s the solution to the problem, really? Stricter gun control laws? I’m all for it. I think certain crimes could be mitigated if guns are more difficult to procure. However, I also recognize that if someone premeditates to go on a shooting spree, they’re going to find a way to get the weapons to do so.
Drugs are illegal, but that certainly hasn’t made them difficult to obtain. Gun control, while necessary and good, will not prevent mass shootings in America. Not while we have almost one gun for every person in our country. Not when we sanctify war and make violence sexy. Not when we revere as-realistic-as-possible fantasy killing as a major facet of our entertainment industry.
What caused this tragedy is a complex question without simple answers. If only he hadn’t had access to the weapons. If only he had been parented differently. If only someone had recognized warning signs. If only the school had metal detectors. I think the “cause” is multi-faceted and goes far deeper and wider than anything we can pinpoint so simplistically.
And maybe there’s no real cause. Maybe there will always be outliers who commit such heinous acts no matter what we do. Perhaps.
But I think we’ve created a world in which so much pain and so much disfunction and so much acceptance and glorification of violence is going to naturally add up to acts of unimaginable horror. I do believe in the inherent goodness of humanity, but the body of humanity is ill. Collectively, we haven’t done a very good job of taking care of ourselves because we haven’t figured out that what happens to one part affects the whole. For example, we feel more sympathy for children in our own country than we do in others. We haven’t embraced the concept of “one human family” no matter how much lip service we pay to it.
We want a simple answer. We want it to be about gun control, or taking care of the mentally ill, or early warning signs, or better lockdown procedures. But boiled down to its core, the tragedy here is that innocent children were killed. And innocent children are killed every day. Much more than 20. Every day.
That scope of suffering really does feel like too much to let in. I can barely fathom the killing of these children in Connecticut, much less the rest of the world. But other than the fact that it’s so close to home, is there any significant difference between a child being shot in a suburban school and a child being killed in a village in Africa? Is there any significant difference between a senseless death caused by violence and a senseless death caused by preventable starvation? No. A child is a child. Human atrocity is human atrocity.
My concern is what to do about all of this. Because the only good that can come of something this tragic is letting the fire it creates fuel some positive action.
And, after all of these thoughts, I come back to the focus of our brainstorming session. Building Communities of Hope. Maybe the simple-yet-not-so-simple answer to the problem of the killing and suffering of children is to work harder at creating a better world. Fostering spiritual qualities such as love, compassion, forgiveness, justice, honesty, etc. in our children and communities. Learning to consult with humility and open-mindedness about the problems our world faces without partisan politics mucking it all up. Recognizing that what affects one part of the human family affect us all.
Some may think that’s too simplistic, or naive, or a stretch. I don’t.
Not recognizing our oneness begets disunity, which begets inequality, which begets poverty, which begets hunger, which begets despair, which begets violence, which begets fear, which begets hopelessness, which begets blame, which begets prejudice, which begets disunity, and the cycle continues with the entire world feeling the injustice of it all. We cannot allow (or perpetuate) greed, violence, powermongering, and vast socioeconomic inequality in the world without feeling its repercussions, including random acts of violence against our children.
“The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established.” – Bahá’u’lláh
As individuals, we can only do what we can do. Personally, I will put my energies where I feel they will do the most good. In spreading love and compassion. In praying for broken-hearted families and an ailing world. In sharing my faith’s message of the oneness of humanity and the vital importance of behaving – politically and socially – as one human family.
And perhaps most importantly, in the care and education of children:
“The social dislocation of children in our time is a sure mark of a society in decline; this condition is not, however, confined to any race, class, nation or economic condition–it cuts across them all. It grieves our hearts to realize that in so many parts of the world children are employed as soldiers, exploited as labourers, sold into virtual slavery, forced into prostitution, made the objects of pornography, abandoned by parents centred on their own desires, and subjected to other forms of victimization too numerous to mention. Many such horrors are inflicted by the parents themselves upon their own children. The spiritual and psychological damage defies estimation. Our worldwide community cannot escape the consequences of these conditions. This realization should spur us all to urgent and sustained effort in the interests of children . . . Children are the most precious treasure a community can possess, for in them are the promise and guarantee of the future.”
– Universal House of Justice to the Baha’is of the World, 2000
Today my heart is with the parents and families of the children in Newtown, CT, as well as with the parents and families of children suffering in all corners of the globe. There are no words that can do justice to their experiences. We can only hope that our grief, compassion, and prayers can help bring some measure of peace to their hearts.
As the shock of this tragedy dissipates and our sense of security shakily returns, we will move on. And hopefully with renewed vigor, we will put one foot in front of the other in our work to heal a broken world. Whether our actions are obviously impactful or seemingly insignificant, our consecrated and sustained efforts toward building the Kingdom of God on Earth are the only hope I can find worth holding onto.
Love and peace to all.