June 13, 2016 by Alex Johannigman
It seems like we can’t go more than a few months anymore without the news of another mass shooting. And it didn’t take too long after the news broke of a shooting at an Orlando nightclub for folks to begin sharing their opinions once again about whose fault it was that this happened. The “gun-control” people blamed the “gun-rights” people. The “gun-rights” people blamed the “gun-control” people. And I don’t think that either side is without its faults. As Simcha Fisher said earlier today, “I see a grotesque fixation on guns in some quarters, and I see an equally grotesque trust in the power of government in other quarters, and both fixations lead to their own kind of murderous disaster.”
If anything about these situations can come close to being as saddening as the actual loss of life that has occurred, it’s how quickly we allow an event that should unite us to only further divide us. It used to be that we’d turn to news agencies to get the facts about an event, but now we increasingly turn to the echo-chambers of social media to remind ourselves of how we’re on the correct side of the partisan divide.
I don’t think this is helping. Articles and research focused on facts that may help change minds is badly needed, but the finger-pointing, name calling, and anger is not. We can, and should, do better.
We need to dispel the belief that the culture can only change when our laws change. Our legislature and the courthouse are not the only groups of people capable of preventing these kinds of atrocities. Our response to these events cannot be limited to sitting down at our computer screens, writing an angry Facebook post, sharing an article that proves how right we are, and calling it a day. Instead, spend some time thinking about what concrete actions YOU can take to help in these situations, and possibly prevent them from happening again. Here are some of my suggestions:
Give blood regularly. Blood donations are desperately needed in the Orlando area right now to help care for the victims of the shooting, but that doesn’t mean that those of us in different parts of the country can’t do our part as well. Giving blood reminds us that tragedies occur and blood donations are always needed in our communities. Not everyone is qualified to give blood, but if you are I strongly encourage you to make a habit of it if you aren’t already.
Love and respect the people in your life. Our society is suffering from a loss of respect for, and love of, human life. We saw it just last week when so many were outraged that the life of a human child was deemed more valuable than the life of a gorilla in a zoo. We see it in the millions of human lives lost to abortion each year. And we saw it at Sandy Hook, San Bernardino, Columbine, Virginia Tech, and again this weekend at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. These mass shootings are always linked to a person who thinks that the lives he or she are taking don’t have a special value and dignity to them.
Most of us look at these acts of violence and they don’t make sense to us because we view life as inherently good and worth living. That’s because we’ve been taught that from positive interactions with others in our lives. There are some out there who haven’t experienced that type of love, joy, or peace because no one has shown it to them. Let us always be the type of people who leave others recognizing that there is good in this world that is worth living for after we’ve encountered them. I have hope that simple acts of kindness can change the world.
When Mother Teresa was asked what we can do to promote world peace, she said, “Go home and love your family.” Very few of us had the chance to interact with any of those shooters before they committed their terrible crimes, yet we all have opportunities to love the people we encounter and teach them how to love better. People who understand love and self-sacrifice are the ones who are more likely to talk someone down from harming others and more likely to heroically place their own lives in danger for the sake of saving another like many did at this weekend’s shooting.
Not sure where to start?
Remind your Muslim and LGBT friends that you love them. It is a frightening time to be a part of either of these communities. Once again we are hearing from many loud voices that this is all the fault of Islam in particular and religion in general that these events are happening, even though the types of individuals who commit these acts make up a miniscule minority of the global Muslim population. And some of my LGBT friends have expressed concern for their own safety after a gay club was specifically targeted by the shooter this weekend. Even though the percentage of Muslim and Christian people who believe as the Westboro Baptist Church does that “God sent the shooter” is tiny, it can feel like that is not the case when they are the ones making the most noise. It may not seem like much, but it can make a huge difference to those who are worried and fearful because of the events of the past few days.
Can’t think of any people in those groups in your life? Maybe a simple social media post or comment to some friends in a conversation expressing your solidarity with these groups will be noticed by someone you didn’t realize was struggling with fear. Or maybe by sharing a message of love and support you can encourage other people to do likewise. Love need not be limited to those we are close to. It could include an affirming comment to a woman wearing a hijab and her family at the grocery store or a gay couple that you see while you’re all waiting for your respective tables to be ready at a restaurant.
I’m challenging myself and you to stop doing what is easy, like simply jumping back into the echo-chamber of social media every time a new tragedy hits our news feeds, and instead do something loving, even if that is a bit more uncomfortable for you. You never know how a simple act of kindness can change the world.