With yet another horrific shooting, we turn, again, to the topic of guns and rights and gun rights, skimming over the simple and horrific truth that many people are going to bed tonight, and every night hereafter, without their husband, their wife, their son or daughter, their friend, and their buddy.
I think of what happened at my trial. His father got on the stand. His father called this kid his buddy.
That was his buddy. I took his buddy away from him.
How does that sit with me?
I showed this video to my students, and for the first time all year, they were silent. Until the "One voice. Your voice. Is powerful enough. To stop. One Kid. From picking up. One gun." flashed across the screen.
Suddenly, they had an opinion, a voice, and something they needed to argue - guns.
Instead of discussing the answer that the man cannot answer, "How does that sit we me?" instead of dealing with the man whose tears fill his eyes as he pleads to the camera, "There is nothing you can do to make it right," the students started talking, passionately, about guns and rights and gun rights.
Because that's the easier conversation to have, even though it's the wrong one. .
So I drew a line down the center of the board. On one side I wrote, "Get rid of guns" and on the other side, "keep them." Then I allowed a brief pros and cons discussion of both. It went about as shallow as I had expected.
"You can talk forever on either side" I said, showing the breadth of each side of the argument, "Because they're huge. But what we need to be talking about is this," and I pinched my fingers around the line that divided the two groups, "this is where the problem is because this is where humanity is." It's where the heart is.d
John Steinbeck, in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech proclaimed that,
Humanity has been passing through a gray and desolate time of confusion. My great predecessor, William Faulkner, speaking here, referred to it as a tragedy of universal fear so long sustained that there were no longer problems of the spirit, so that only the human heart in conflict with itself seemed worth writing about.
In all of our gallantry, courage, compassion and love, we are also fully weak and full of the worst this world has to offer. Man has, as Steinbeck states, "become our greatest hazard." And when we reduce the pain and sorrow and loss of loved ones to an argument of gun control, we exchange communal empathy for individual rights and ensure another shooting.
Inmates crying and struggling with regret over the deepest mistakes of their lives shouldn't lead to battles over gun problems. Rather, it should invite discussions over people problems.
Somehow, though, we aren't even talking at all.
Trevor Noah is right, when planes crash, we talk about plane safety, and when bridges collapse, we talk about infrastructure. But these discussions are different because although they may have to deal with human error, they don't have to deal with the ugliness of the human condition, and that makes them easier.
Require longer training hours, and the problem is solved. Add a few million dollars to a budget and we can build better more high-tech planes. Problem solved. Or, at least, improved.
Yet after a mass shooting, a mass shooting, a mass shooting, a mass shooting, a mass shooting, we are not. We are not improving and we're getting worse. And we're getting worse because when it comes to discussing that thin line of humanity, we'd rather talk about guns or Muslims or black on black crime or white supremacists or hotels because they're easy to talk about.
In an age of supreme technological advancement, when we have more information than we've ever had before and faster than at any time in our human history, yet, we are dying. Kids are committing suicide in gross numbers, mass shootings are common occurrences, and war (seemingly) is everywhere.
We're in an advanced technological age that is killing our humanity because we're so averse, so scared, to discuss the thin and terrifying line that divides every argument: humanity, and the human condition.
Churches claim to have the answer, so do teachers, parents, and science. Yet none of them do because all of them do, they're just too busy arguing over differences and sides and forgetting about the line, about us, and about what makes up the best and worst humanity has to offer.
In a recent podcast about creativity, the host spoke about the practice of getting thoughts out on a consistent basis so that when an opportunity comes along, we know the next step we need to take. We may not know what step to take after that, but that's okay because that's what the creative process is all about.
The same can be said for discussing the dhuman condition.
I don't know how to solve the worst problems of humanity, but I know the next step: to talk about it. After that, I'm not sure what will happen, but I think that's okay because that is what life is all about - sharing the human being stuff with one another, allowing for differences and struggle, and affirming in one another that we're not alone. That we're not going to take sides, but rather, grab hold of the line.
We need to talk about the best and worst of humanity and hope, believe, we might be able to prevent a kid from picking up a gun - not because he can't, but because he or she doesn't want to. Because they know the pain and sorrow of taking someone's buddy, as well as the finality of never being able to take it back. We need to talk about what it means to be human, to struggle with hate and sadness and the fear of being alone, about our struggles and doubts and deepest, darkest nightmares. Then, instead of giving answers or promising prayers, we need to love, forgive, and shower each other with empathy and grace.
Because that too is the human being stuff. And it’s the kind of stuff we long for, live for, and are made to strive for.
But first, a step.
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