It’s been a few days since the horrific shootings in Connecticut and, since no one asked me, I thought I’d offer my own take on the tragedy.
Reactions from both the Left and Right have been predictable. The Left wants to ban guns, perhaps even repealing the Second Amendment. The Right wants to arm everyone, and bring the Bible back into the public schools.
Why is it, in this country, that we always look for a quick fix? We have become a nation of pill-poppers, that is, we think we can solve everything instantly. Don’t feel well? Take a pill. Losing your hair? Take a pill. Can’t get it up? Take a pill. So, why not apply that mentality to solving the issue of mass civilian killings? Why not? Because, it won’t work. The problem lies much deeper.
First, let me take issue with the Right, in particular over the moral decline and Bible issue. I was in elementary school in the early ’70s, and to the best of my knowledge, we never had Bible instruction, nor was God a part of the curriculum. We went to religious school for spiritual guidance (well, at least in theory…I spent my time in Hebrew School rebelling against it, but that’s a story for another time.) Funny thing, though, we never had to worry about some psycho waltzing into the school and shooting people randomly. Such a thought never entered our heads.
So, how did we come to this?
I think we have descended into the abyss because our society has become increasingly suburbanized and isolated. I grew up in the suburbs, but we knew our neighbors, had keys to their houses. We walked to school every day. I even remember walking home from school for lunch on occasion. No one feared that an evil predator might snatch us…because no one ever did.
After school, we played outside, unsupervised by our parents until dinner. We played in the street, on someone’s lawn, or rode our bikes down to the school fields. We played sports without adult supervision, and I can’t remember a single fight breaking out when we couldn’t agree on a call. If we reached an impasse, we just did a “do over.” We worked shit out on our own, without crazy parents fighting in the stands, or coaches screaming at us.
We have lost that connection with each other. Kids now spend their time either heavily managed with organized activities, or playing video games on their televisions or phones. I’ve seen it so many times…a bunch of teenagers sitting next to each other with their eyes glued to their phones as they furiously text each other. I want to say to them, “Hey, why don’t you fucking talk to each other?”
A few years back, I attended a history conference in Oxford, England. After the daily seminar, a bunch of us would go into town to check out the pubs. I remember feeling really good there, and it wasn’t because of the alcohol (although that helped.) We talked. We talked for hours. And I listened…listened to stories from people who have really lived. I loved it. No one stared at the giant flat screen TV, since there was none. No one texted the entire time. We talked. We interacted.
Gun violence reflects the nature of our suburbanized, impersonal society. Killing someone with a gun is an impersonal act. You can take someone out from great distances, as a sniper can…whereas to do it with another weapon, knife, bat, bare hands, requires close contact.
Think about when you drive a car, and somebody cuts you off. We yell (and I admit I’ve done this, since I’m not applying for sainthood), “Fuck you, asshole!” and the other driver flips us off. We have no idea who the other driver is…it could be a drug addict, it could be a family man with three nice children…but we’re isolated in our own vehicles. Such a confrontation will likely not occur on a train. Why? Are you really going to say, “Fuck you, asshole!” to the person standing right next to you? Probably not, because the two of you will figure out how to accommodate each other as you board the train.
So, what is the answer? No quick fix, folks. Instead, we need to get to know each other. Talk to your neighbors. Find out about what they like. Talk to them about dogs, cars, sports (but not the Eagles, please, I can’t handle that anymore), whatever. You needn’t be in everyone’s business, but take an interest in your neighbor. Once we get to know each other as human beings, the fear of the unknown will evaporate. Then, as we look out for each other, we might be able to detect warning signs when something in the neighborhood appears amiss.
Let me give you a quick example from an experience I had in my old neighborhood. I was good friends with my neighbors, and we always watched out for each other.
I used to take my dogs to the nearby park, and so it was on one rainy day. I let the two of them off the leash to explore, and the Cokes (my black lab) decided to mix it up with another unleashed dog. So, I ran over to pull her off of the other animal (she usually won her fights.) When I turned around, my other pup, the Bear (my yellow lab/goldie mix), had disappeared. I leashed up the Cokes and looked all over the park for him to no avail.
So, I decided to head home, figuring I’d let the Cokes in and drive around to find the boy. As I exited the park, I saw my neighbors Joe and Barb pull up in their car.
“Hey,” Joe said. “Are you ok?”
“Yeah,” I responded, “but the Bear ran off. I have to go home so I can drive around and find him.”
“Don’t worry about him,” Joe said. “He’s safely at home.”
Joe and Barb explained to me that they were looking out their front porch and saw the Bear walking down the street by himself. He tried to get into my fenced back yard to no avail, so they went over and let him in my house (I gave them a key), and then went looking for me, figuring something might be wrong.
That’s what we need. We need to look out for each other. Let’s start with that, and go from there.