Written by Lifestyle Contributor, Darcy Thiel, MA, LMHC, is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in NY State.
I was asked by a couple of different sources to write about the latest shooting in Florida. I dreaded the thought. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first, or second, or third time this has happened. What is there to say other than it is horrific? And most conversations end up in one of two places- guns and/or mental illness. I have little desire to discuss either issue, so it caused me to ask myself why.
After a few conversations with people, I realized I could come at this topic in a dozen different ways. Maybe it wouldn’t be so difficult to write about after all, but which one to focus on? Then I had a talk with my friend Darren and I came up with an overarching theme. He gave me permission to steal his verbiage.
Probably the simplest explanation as to why I find it so difficult to talk about these kinds of incidents, is what seems to be like a resurgence of polarization in our country. Perhaps it has always been like this and I just wasn’t aware. From my limited perspective, it feels like the latest election has caused the problem to skyrocket. Now it has become Trump lovers or Trump haters. Guns or no guns, etc..
I find it almost impossible to talk with people at either extreme. How can anyone be so incredibly positive they are “right” when the issues are so profoundly complex? The language people use to describe their positions makes me cringe. It’s so obvious to each side that their view is without question the most sensible answer. Anyone who disagrees must have a seriously maladjusted brain. Yuck.
It also feels to me like the goal is to find blame. I understand that it is human nature to want to be angry at someone. That is probably why so many people end up angry with God. God is always a good scapegoat if you can’t explain the situation away with something else. Let’s blame the president this time, even though these shootings have been happening for quite a while now under the leadership of Democrats and Republicans. Let’s blame the FBI for making an unforgiveable mistake. Granted, some mistakes are catastrophic, but I wonder just how many “warning signs” get turned into the FBI every day. Is it even possible to sift through them all?
I remember something disturbing from my very first sociology class. Humans tend to pat themselves on their back when something good happens. Those same humans tend to blame others when something bad happens. Most of the “solutions” to shootings that are out there are externalizing the problem. Someone, some entity, some policy, some agency is supposed to fix this.
The truth of the matter is, I think we would make a much bigger impact on the world if we thought of ways to internalize the problem. What can I do? Me! After all, I am the only one I truly have power over anyway.
One of the best suggestions I’ve read out there is to try to befriend the lonely people we encounter. If we all stopped taking the easier path of ignoring people who are easy to ignore and instead reach out, that could be a profound example to our children.
My son is 15 now and in my recent parent-teacher conference, I came away a very proud mama. I heard at least twice that he is able to work with anyone he is put in contact with, even those kids that are on the fringe. While I do try to live my life in a way that reaches out to everyone, I don’t think I can take the lion’s share of the credit on this one. From birth to age 13, one of his best friends was the neighbor down the street who was on the autism spectrum. Unfortunately, he had to move away a couple of years ago and I know he misses him. From early on, he was aware that people could be “different” but he overlooked that in a way that kids can be so good at.
I plead with all of us, let’s try really hard to stop polarizing. Stay open to information. Have your views, but speak to others with respect. Actually listen to people who think differently than you do. It is amazing that just a small change in wording can make a gigantic difference in creating a more peaceful conversation. Take personal responsibility. Live your life every day the best way you can in whatever space of the world you are in.
Seem pie in the sky to you? Maybe. But I think it is truly much more effective than any of the other endless arguing that goes on politically.
Humans hate. Humans kill. Humans die.
Humans grieve. Humans hurt.
Humans love. Humans sacrifice. Humans stand in front of their students and take a fatal bullet for them.
Wake up every day and ask yourself what kind of human you want to be. You probably will never have to find out if you would take a bullet for someone. But I bet you might have the chance often to reach out to someone who is less than lovely in your eyes. Do it, and help change the world.