Sunday, June 21, 2015

A personal note on the Charleston church tragedy

I don't usually air my views on things like this publicly. The recent shooting at a church in South Carolina has moved me to make an exception.

For quite some time now, I have avoided listening to the news as much as possible. This isn't a put-my-head-in-the-sand strategy, it's more about trying not to allow myself to be bombarded by negativity. I do like to be informed, especially during election years, though, and I must admit that it isn't easy to find that balance between learning what I'd like to know in order to make good choices and not absorbing too much negative energy.

I am not on Facebook every day. In fact, this morning is the first time I've logged onto FB in over a week, and I feel a bit overwhelmed by the quantity and tone of the posts relating to the Charleston shooting. One post was about a woman who was reportedly calling for a "race war" in response to the shooting. Several speculated about whether the shooting victims were actually actors who were paid to be there. While I had heard a little on the radio about the messages of forgiveness and compassion coming from the church congregation, there was very little mention of this on FB.

My husband likes to listen to the news headlines at the top of every hour on NPR, and while I am usually in the other room, I can't always avoid hearing some of it. So I did hear the soundbites about the church shooting in Charleston. Then there was the inevitable reaction; on the radio, on Facebook, and elsewhere. I don't want to talk about the exploitation of this horrible event by those seeking to make political hay out of other people's pain. Nor do I have a personal agenda having to do with race or gun control or religion. I would like to share my opinion on what leads to this kind of violence, and what we can and should do about it.

Here's what happened: This individual made a series of choices that led him to this church. He had some kind of issue (real or imagined, who knows?) and chose to address his problem with violence toward others. What we should be asking is, how, in a society like ours, does a person get to a place where he (or she) decides that the solution to his or her problem is to respond with violence? Even young children are making this choice. Something is very wrong here, and it is bigger than race or arms or religion.

I do not believe that what happened in Charleston was based on race. I don't believe that the person responsible would not have committed a violent act if only he hadn't had access to a gun. Why are we so quick to want to place the responsibility for this kind of thing outside the individual who did it? I think it's time to start separating symptoms of problems from the actual problem that lies at the root of awful violence like this. It's not enough to shrug our shoulders and say it couldn't have been prevented; once we concede that, we have declared we are powerless to change anything, and we have condemned ourselves to a life of fear.

We should not accept that! I don't know what the answers are, and I'm sure that any solution will take time and it will be difficult. Yes, ultimately it was this individual's choice to act as he did. But we are all sharing this planet for a reason, and I believe it's our responsibility to support each other in the choices that we make, including teaching our children problem-solving skills that work in the long run.

Frankly, I'm sick and tired of everything being turned into a "war." To me, this implies an adversarial situation, and leads us to view each other as enemies or at least potential enemies. What if, instead, we use this opportunity to look into our own hearts, reach out to those around us in love and compassion, and promote messages of peace? Let the healing begin.

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