28 people died on Friday. 28 lives were ended by one individual, an individual who clearly failed to understand the humanity, including his own, that was extinguished. Since Friday, we’ve talked largely of technical fixes – adjustments we could make to gun laws or mental health services to lessen the likelihood of such events. But, these are not the large questions with which we must wrestle.
28 people died on Friday in a single Connecticut community.
In this country, an average of 31 people are killed each day in homicides involving guns. The killers and the killed belong to all of us.
28 people died on Friday, and, on Monday, our students will want to know why.
We can tell them about sensible gun control policies that might limit access to semi-automatic weapons. We can tell them about the need for improved access to mental health services. While stricter gun laws and improved mental health services are necessary, they seem, to me, to be peripheral to the central issues we must confront.
28 people died on Friday, and we must ask ourselves a question: How does a member of our community become so detached from our shared humanity that murder even becomes an option to be considered?
It’s a confusing time to be a kid. We tell our kids they’re our most valuable resource, but we suspend and expel them – throwing them away when they upset us. We tell them to be nice to each other while we curse and condemn those that don’t share our views. We tell them not to hurt each other, but we execute criminals, torture enemy combatants, and bomb villages where terrorists might live. We say that all lives have equal value, but we show dead bodies of foreign citizens on the nightly news, all the while hiding the caskets of our dead soldiers.
We’ve all seen it. During the recent election cycle, we told those on the other side to secede, leave the country, stop breeding, or die. We speak these harsh, semi-serious words and expect that the golden rule will survive. It won’t.
James Baldwin said, “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”
What are we giving them to imitate? Each day, do we show our kids that they must seek the humanity in all people, even those they consider enemies? Do we model a process of listening, of demonstrating respect?
28 people died in one incident on Friday. On Monday, we have an opportunity to change the conversation. We should talk about gun control and mental health services, but we should also talk about our responsibility to each other. We should talk about looking for the humanity in those that create feelings of fear or disgust. We should speak about the ways we all contribute to the marginalization of those on our society’s fringes. We should speak about the contributions we can all make to an improved future.
28 people died on Friday. News stories have been mentioning 26 or 27. But, when Monday comes, tell them about all 28. By talking about all 28, we recognize the humanity of all people, even of those who so heinously violate our trust.
People will call Adam a coward. People will call him evil. People will use his egregious acts to push explicitly political efforts. We will use labels to create distance. But, in the end, Adam was one of us. We all failed him. And we’re all scared that we’re failing others who are having experiences that lead to the dark alleys of alienation and despair.
28 people died on Friday. Sadly, it is unlikely that this will be the last time the news interrupts regularly scheduled programming to report such an event.
When Monday comes, we have choices. We can condemn or we can explore. We can distance ourselves or we can steer into those difficult conversations. By giving ourselves the power to judge other people’s worth, we opened the door to the judgments of others – judgments sometimes based in delusion, alienation, and hate. But, by consistently seeking understanding, we could model a path toward peace.
28 people died on Friday. On Monday, we teach. What will the lesson be?