When guns are not the problem

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Another week, another school shooting.

At this point, it almost seems there is nothing left to say. No more marches from infuriated students who feel endangered and forgotten, no more anti-gun protests, no more promises from legislators that change will happen, no more thoughts and prayers will make a difference.

Albert Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

Another week, another school shooting.

At this point, it almost seems there is nothing left to say. No more marches from infuriated students who feel endangered and forgotten, no more anti-gun protests, no more promises from legislators that change will happen, no more thoughts and prayers will make a difference.

Albert Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

The truth behind Einstein’s statement lies in the principle of causation. No symptom can be effectively treated without understanding the source of the illness.

And America is ill.

Guns, however, are only a small facet of the issue — so small that they bear very little impact on the narrative of the story.

Americans have been asking themselves how it is possible that any student would have access to a weapon of such destructive capabilities. The real question should be why any student would feel compelled to walk into a school and wreak such destruction on other children.

Our kids are supposed to be more innocent than that, aren’t they? They are supposed to be hopeful, trusting, naive to the ills of the world – not the cause of them.

Granted, not all kids get a perfect childhood. Many suffer immensely at home and at school alike. At least two of the shooters this year were bullied at school, and one of the Texas shooters from last week allegedly harassed a girl in school until she rejected his advances outright, humiliating him in front of his classmates. The LA Times reported that her mother claims that he shot her daughter first.

Suffering is a part of the human condition, an unavoidable facet of life that often tends to be the catalyst that turns meager men and women into strong, capable human beings. So bullying, rejection, and depression should not be the cause of school shootings.

But society accepts that they are, that mass killing is somehow a normal reaction to bullying, or abuse in the home, or some other kind of personal struggle.

Coupled with this inborn sympathy for the plight of the sufferer is a culture that has lost all respect for the value of human life.

Students in school might nod their heads and say, “Yes, you taught us that only certain lives have value when you invaded foreign nations, when you separated immigrant families through deportations, and when you made no effort to stop the mass incarceration of the black community.”

But the message that the value of human life is subjective and disposable is far more subtle. It has infiltrated our culture on every level.

Recently, a new TV has aired its second season, and if there are teenagers in your home, it is likely that they are watching it: 13 Reasons Why.

The show tracks the suicide of a young, likeable, relatable high school teenager and her equally relatable, likeable young friend. In a traumatic emotional rollercoaster, the characters in this show, all fitting a different high school stereotype, are made to feel personally responsible for the suicide of this young woman.

Although their actions to this girl before her suicide were unkind and unacceptable, no one can take responsibility for the death of this girl accept herself. It was her choice.

The show glorifies tragedy, falsely empowers victims of bullying with the lie that death is the answer, and ultimately normalizes through exposure something that should not be normal: taking a life – your own or someone else’s.

We could blame young people for how quickly and thoughtlessly they eat these shows up, after all, society does enjoy making a mockery of young people, conveniently forgetting that each generation is simply a reflection of the one before it.

We could blame producers for making a dime off impressionable minds, or parents for allowing it to happen under their roof.

Bad decisions have been made all around and there is fault to share.

But why stop at television shows?

Is not the greatest destruction of human life protected through our justice system?

When women say, “My body, my choice,” – when we as a society allow her to make that decision – are we not devaluing the life inside her? Are we not telling our born-children that those with the power have the right to choose who lives and who dies, that convenience or personal trauma or suffering are excuses to kill innocents?

Author and pro-choice advocate Caitlin Moran describes the contradiction perfectly.

“I cannot understand anti-abortion arguments that centre on the sanctity of life,” she said. “As a species we’ve fairly comprehensively demonstrated that we don’t believe in the sanctity of life.

The shrugging acceptance of war, famine, epidemic, pain and life-long poverty shows us that, whatever we tell ourselves, we’ve made only the most feeble of efforts to really treat human life as sacred.”

Our society is conflicted. We mourn the death of the children in our schools but not in the womb.

We decry guns and violence in our neighborhoods, but flock like Romans to the Gladiatorial stadium to watch it on our screens or listen to it in our songs.

We blame pieces of metal with incredible capacity for evil, not willing to accept that the evil begins in us.

Our culture has made our children sick. Like second-hand smoke, it has infected them with our poor habits and decisions, but in a way we never expected or intended.

They have grown up learning from the world around them that lives can be thrown away; that the bigger their own personal tragedy, the more right they have to hurt others; that killing is the answer.

So what is the answer? How do we fix our children?

First, we have to heal our nation.

Candace Owens, the communications director for Turning Point USA tweeted out following last week’s shooting, “There is no law, no president, and no congress that can be responsible for raising our children.”

We must rebuild the family unit – parents should be first in line to react when their child is bullied at school. They should walk their kid through those difficult high school years, giving the guidance and love that can cover a multitude of hurtful words from peers.

Parents sometimes forget how much of an influence their affirmation has on their children.

I still need to hear my dad tell me he is proud of me, and I left my high school insecurities behind years ago.

The idea that good parenting means getting your kid into the best schools, providing them with the coolest gadgets to show off to their friends, or even simply making sure they eat three square meals a day is such a vapid depiction of the great responsibility that is raising a human being to be a decent, good, honest person.

We need real parenting to come back.

Beyond the family, our society needs to let go of the martyr mantra. Being a victim is not empowering. Being a survivor, an overcomer, that is empowering.

It is time to stop mollycoddling young people with participation medals.

Sometimes you lose. Sometimes people will not be kind to you. Sometimes unspeakable injustices will happen to you.

The answer is never to quit, to destroy, to become the evil you hate.

Enter, again, the family, to help their children understand how to respond to those situations, to model through their own lives how to effectively overcome adversity.

Michelle Obama said, “With every word we utter, with every action we take, we know our kids are watching us. We as parents are their most important role models.”

It is a learning process for everyone to become truly decent people. It takes a lifetime, and, in many ways, it takes the village.

Finally, we have to return to our principles. Any positive change in the world must be grounded in principle, in something of value.

Those values then become the foundation of our development and the guide for our future.

As a society, we have to commit to condemning those things that contradict the message we are trying to teach our children.

This means not praising entertainment that glorifies death, violence and victimhood.

This means responding in peace when circumstances in our lives might provoke us to use harsh words and angry threats. It means actively seeking conflict resolution with our family, our neighbors and our community, and dealing with differences of opinion and politics on an ‘adult’ level – read: mature.

This means standing up for the defenseless in our society – the immigrant, the homeless, the unborn – even when it is both politically unpopular and personally inconvenient.

This means changing who we have become as a people, altering our course, returning to our values.

The change must happen now, time is of the essence. 

No more, “do as I say, not as I do.”

Our children are watching.

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