In 1984, Time magazine arrived at my home one day along with Newsweek and US News and World Report. My father subscribed to all three. I remember looking in horror at the cover stories about the San Ysidro McDonald’s shooting. I couldn’t fathom such violence. I also couldn’t fathom how anyone could heal from witnessing such carnage. I instinctually knew that most people don’t fully recover. I remember thinking this was the beginning of the end of world as I knew it. Yet if you had told my young high school self that by 2016, mass shootings in the US would be the norm, I would have wondered if the sky was falling.
For the last six years I’ve done contract work for the National Council for Behavioral Health certifying individuals across the country to teach a public education course called, “Mental Health First Aid.” The seminar equips the general community to assist someone in emotional distress. A student in one of my classes summarized the core values of the curriculum as “giving a shit.” “How tough is it?” he said. “Just give a shit. It’s not rocket science.”
As the Senate yet again vetoed measures that would help keep guns out of the hands of criminals, “Just give a shit” ran through my mind. Think about what it would be like to be a survivor of gun violence. Think about what it would be like to be Gabby Giffords, one of your own, a senator whose life and health was irrevocably changed because of a mass shooting. Think about what it would be like to be a parent of a child at Sandy Hook or a victim, survivor, or loved one of someone at Orlando. Think about the vicarious trauma of the emergency response team, or the physicians having to operate, or the physical therapists helping with limb rehabilitation, or the psychotherapists trying to resuscitate a human soul. How hard is it to have empathy? How hard is it to use that empathy to effect change? As humans, we are not entirely helpless. If we can send people to the moon, why can’t we work on this problem?
Can anyone feel anything in a moment of silence? Most of us need at least ten minutes to settle into a state of meditation and reflection. Are we even thinking of the victims or are we reflecting on what we want to eat for lunch? Because that is the way the mind works. It takes a certain degree of quiet and spaciousness for the mind to settle. Unless we’ve experienced loss ourselves, sometimes we can’t put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. Yet we can imagine…
Sadly, in my six years of teaching I have interfaced with most communities impacted by mass shootings in this country. I have seen the psychic bullet wounds.
Yes, anger is a healthy response when something is inherently wrong.
I also understand my emotions well enough to constructively express and contain them. When people do not know how to manage anger and have easy access to guns, pulling a trigger can have devastating consequences. Much of violence stems not from mental illness but from poor anger management skills, lack of impulse control, and a very quick and easy way to discharge those feelings for immediate gratification. Unfortunately, what is a quick solution for some, creates a lifetime of pain for others.
Our nation has a terrible problem and if we don’t start giving a shit, we’ll all have blood on our hands.