Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Something Each of Us Can Do

In the wake of the Newtown tragedy in Connecticut on Friday, I have struggled because I simply have no words. Instead I am going to share a post of a friend of mine here in Western Massachusetts who writes powerfully from personal experience:

Like many of you who I know are reading this, as people who have intimate experience with the intersection of violence, guns and mental illness and what that can precipitate, my deepest heart grieves, and much has arisen to think about.

This image is very similar to a poster my father had on the wall of his office at the MD S.P. crime lab: for the many of you who know how his life, career, and death were inherently intermingled with this issue.

Many folk are reposting many great and eloquent things. Many public figures are saying asinine things and, I say this out of a place of fierce compassion (in the Buddhist sense) need an intervention and/or an opportunity for empathy and perspective.

The only thing I feel I can add to the mix which hasn't been said before is a story that was shared to me by a friend who lives in a very, very rural, and very, very poor part of North Carolina:

There was a member of her community who was off, no doubt. And it was public knowledge that he had an arsenal. And he was making threats. And the community, knowing what could happen: they approached him, and talked to him, and helped him. He did end up in a prolonged shootout with police in the end, but he didn't carry out his alleged plans to take out his rage and despair on his community members.

I don't think this is anything remotely resembling the general state of our communities in this country. There are books and books and books documenting this (Bowling Alone, etc...). While it's incontrovertible that with gun control, we would not be having these massacres (the facts back me up, but you know, facts are inconvenient, so I don't expect those who disagree with me to check them out), I think the larger, deeper, problem is that we (all of us as individuals, I truly mean it) perpetuate a culture where the mentally ill, or even folks who are struggling with hard issues, are marginalized from our communities and alienated from personal relationships that would also otherwise prevent this sort of thing from happening. The social pressure release has dissolved. What happened in Connecticut was evil-- in that it's an extension of our own failure to address these problems and our own failure to care for each other, which is perhaps the hardest part to admit, and why there's blame and distancing being thrown around like confetti. It's not "them" (being the NRA, the murder, gun dealers, etc... although the blood is on their hands and money), but this is a symptom of "us."

So how are we going to fix us? How are we going to take the guns away from a culture that isn't mature enough to have them? How do we care for people who struggle whom we feel uncomfortable around? How are we, collectively, and personally, keep returning to the uncomfortable issue and being engaged as it slowly fades from our collective memory? How do we manifest and respond to our own personal share of responsibility in this? For my Christian friends: How do we be more like Christ in our actions in the world beyond just words? (it's actually written out for us)? For my fellow Buddhists: How do we manifest metta beyond a meditation techniue? For all of us: what needs to happen in our heads and hearts to grow the cojones to take care of our neighbors-- to really do it in action and not just in symbolic words and gestures?