it was a brown afternoon outside, like so many afternoons in Ohio lately. We haven’t had any snow yet, which is probably the first time since I’ve lived here that I can remember not getting any snow by this time. It was also just hours until Shabbat and the 7th night of Hanukkah and just 10 days until Christmas Eve when I heard on the radio about what is now common knowledge: that a young man shot and killed more than people at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, most of them children. So how do we respond?
At work today, I heard all about the Facebook posts, the Instragram pictures, the news reports. The blame was assigned to everyone from the shooter’s mother to video games, the internet, doctors, the shooter himself, and the government as a whole. And I was reminded yet again that our society has no idea how to react to tragedy. When faced with an event beyond our scope, we all become casual experts on everything.
“It’s video games,” we say, “They’re so violent. They desensitize kids.”
“Well I heard the shooter was autistic, and they can go into their own worlds sometimes.”
“I heard he was depressed.”
“I think we need gun control.”
“I think we need more guns.”
“Maybe his parents neglected him.”
And on, and on, and on. As though any of this helps us understand; as though any one facet will explain away one person’s behaviour. I’ve known autistic people; I’ve even taken a few self-assessments and ended up right in the middle of “average” and “on the spectrum” myself (which puts me where, almost on the spectrum? Half-spectrum?). I’ve played many a violent video game in my day, even watched quite a lot of violent TV and movies; I have also felt, on occasion, neglected by my parents. The reality is that I think most of my generation can say at least one of these things about themselves… someone else commented that after tragedies, you always hear about how parents will tell their kids they love them, and they should do that every day. But many people in this country are depressed, or bipolar, or have problems at home. Do you think about them every day?
Someone else talked about one of the popular things going around on Facebook about how these kids who were killed will never have their first kiss, or go to prom, or “turn 21 with their friends”, or get married,and so on. Lots of people who live ordinary lives never get married or have kids. Lots of people never went to prom or had a big turning 21 celebration. Do you ever think about them?
To be honest, I don’t know which is worse; hearing this news and going on with your day like it was nothing, or hearing this news and over-sharing pictures of the victims and their parents and scenes of the town in which it happened. Not discussing horrible events at all, or acting as though preventing these tragedies is as easy as taking guns away or adding more; as identifying the autistic people or depressed people better; as taking away video games or making them less violent.
I guess I would like to think that there’s a happy medium; one in which we hear this news, we pray for the victims, we connect with those we know who might have been affected, and we carry those losses with us and try to use them to improve ourselves.