Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Thinking Critically and Building Peace

Pretty deliberately, I haven't sought any more news today about the shootings at Virginia Tech. My brain is on overload; I have absorbed all the grief I can absorb. My heart breaks for the people who don't have the luxury of simply deciding to stop paying attention to the story.

My friend Kimberly is quite right to point out that, the media circus notwithstanding, violent crime is actually down in this country. We shouldn't forget that we have the ability to think critically just because we're reeling from grief. But the statistics don't tell the whole story -not that she was claiming that they did. It's entirely possible that the crime statistics are simultaneously down from 10 years ago and yet too high. Nor do I have any evidence that schools are particularly unsafe places to be, statistically speaking. Again, I'm not sure that's the point. One school shooting is too many.

The last I heard the insta-pundits were out in force. "We should keep kids safe at school." "We shouldn't mainstream kids with mental illnesses." "We should enact meaningful gun control legislation." "We should relax gun control legislation so innocent bystanders can shoot back."

Hush already.

Acknowledge that this urge to do something -anything- comes from your own grief. Acknowledge that this grasping at straws rather than solid explanations is an honest and commendable need for understanding. But then, let go of the sound bites and set about actually understanding the things you're saying. And acknowledge that understanding anything is hard work.

Research suggests that there is no profile that will predict who school shooters will be. I'm sure that profiles are already being bandied about as though they were fact. They are not. And when the mythology replaces fact, actual understanding is impeded. And the thing about understanding this kind of tragedy? People's lives are at stake. Professional practice, basic intelligence, and reasonable life principles all demand that we stand for truth.

Think twice before advocating still more curtailments of civil liberties. You may decide in the end that you support more restrictions of liberties (and I will argue with you, but that's all right), but think first. If you end up trading them away for a feeling of safety that turns out to be unwarranted, what will you have accomplished? Cameras in the halls, see-through backpacks, searches as you enter buildings, isolation of people who are different... these strategies build resentment and intolerance. My guess is (someone probably knows... I'll poke around in the research) that these strategies might help us identify perpetrators after the fact but won't do much to prevent a troubled person from becoming a perpetrator. These measures will have accomplished something, but probably not the thing we wanted in the first place.

Rather, I think we're required to do the harder work, the more nebulous work, of building compassionate communities. The verbal violence of sarcasm that comes so easily to me? That needs to go. The dismissing that is so easy to do when I encounter someone who doesn't please me? It's gotta go, too. The brain that God gave me? I should use it as a peace-making tool. The stakes are too high to fool around. We need real understanding and authentic peace. Let's get to work.

3 comments:

Rhea said...

Before we can keep kids safe at schools, we have to keep kids safe at home. What I'm getting at is that people who commit acts of violence -- school rampages, rape, child sexual assault and abuse -- have more than likely been a victim themselves. I recommend the book "Violence" by James Gilligan for the best explanation of "why it happens" that I've ever read.

Lisa :-] said...

I had to stop listening to the coverage almost immediately. When an NPR reporter grilled a shell-shocked student about who should get the blame for this, I'd heard more than enough. Blame indeed!

Our culture had swirled so far down the toilet of rudeness, violence and "me-ism," I wonder if there is any hope for us at all. But you are right about what our individual responses should be... "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me."

Kimberly said...

Acknowledge that this urge to do something -anything- comes from your own grief. Acknowledge that this grasping at straws rather than solid explanations is an honest and commendable need for understanding. But then, let go of the sound bites and set about actually understanding the things you're saying. And acknowledge that understanding anything is hard work.

I loved the entire post, but this really stood out to me.

I'm so struck by the fact that no one seems to want to admit that this might be complicated and hard. I really hate the assumptions put forward (almost exclusively by members of the press) that there was something simple that someone overlooked that was the cause of this.