Challenges

I keep reading and hearing things like this:

It is not a gun problem. It is a people problem.

Or…

It is not a gun issue. It is a societal issue.

This is typically followed up by…

Nothing.

Absolutely nothing.

And I have quite a few friends and acquaintances that are gun owners. Some are members of the National Rifle Association and others are not. All of them, I believe, are responsible gun owners. I have not seen or heard anything to the contrary to believe or think otherwise.

I also read and hear things like this:

Guns are responsible for this massacre and that shooting.

Or…

Gun violence is rampant in our society. It is a gun issue and a social issue.

This is often followed by loud cries for gun control legislation or action by the president.

Then it all goes away quietly after a time like a receding tide only to predictably return, just like the tide, following the next shooting incident.

Why is that?

Could it possibly be that both sides of the argument have some merit?

Yes. Yes, they do.

Violence is a societal issue. Violence is not just isolated to those instances where a firearm is used. Violence uses many tools, often the tool that will do the most damage at the time that is most readily available, be it a gun, a knife, a hammer, a car, a screwdriver, a shovel, a 2×4, a fist, a foot, a curb…anything really. Violence occurs when a white individual shoots a black individual and when a black individual shoots a white individual. It occurs when a straight individual beats a gay individual with a tire iron. It occurs when a man beats a woman with a belt or his fists. It occurs when a woman runs over a man with a car. It occurs when a cisgendered individual stabs a transgendered individual.

These are all violent acts using tools of one kind or another to facilitate those acts. Do any of these tools need to be outlawed? Of course not.

Do folks that want to use these tools for what they were designed to do need to be taught how to use them before they use them? Absolutely.

No responsible father is going to let their son wield a hammer or screwdriver without first showing the boy the tool’s intended purpose and how to use it correctly. When the father sees the boy using the tool in a way for which the tool was not designed, the father corrects the son in one way or another with the hopes that it will not be done again.

It’s like a tool that I have come to be able to use pretty well, a chef’s knife. First I was taught how to use it, how to hold it in order to prevent an accident, and how to position the fingers on my other hand to help prevent injury. I’ve even been harmed by myself and others that have carelessly used a chef’s knife, and I have the scars to prove it on each of my thumbs. With my education and experience of using a knife, both professionally and in my own home, I am able to show others the misuse a knife where an accident will more than likely occur if respect for the tool is not shown.

And that leads me to the point concerning these tools, especially guns.

Respect.

I see pictures and videos of the use of firearms. I glean from friends’ conversations their appreciation of their firearms and how much they enjoy the activities in which they use their guns, be it hunting, skeet shooting, or going to the firing range for target practice and further training. Yet, of all of those friends that talk about their guns, only one…one of them routinely discusses the importance of learning and practicing respect for the tool. Only one of them regularly calls out the irresponsible use of the tool by other gun owners.

That is the one single thing I want to see more of when it comes to gun ownership. Just like me sharing my experience with others concerning the respect of using a household chef’s knife, why don’t gun owners share their experience with respect of owning, caring for, and using a firearm? You better believe that should I ever decide to post a video of me actually using a knife that a disclaimer concerning the years of practice and accidents and blood and lost fingertips and patience is going to accompany it, because I do not want someone that is inexperienced to see what I might do with a knife and decide to try it, especially if the blade is coming within centimeters or millimeters of the fingers on my other hand.

To quote Uncle Ben from the Spiderman movie:

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

Yes, accidents happen. There is no disputing that. Like I said, just take a look at the tip of my left thumb to see that. Remembering the accident, how it happened, what you were doing when the accident took place, and sharing the experience of the accident and lesson learned can, and most often will, help another avoid an accident, which usually occurs during a period of time when focus is taken from the performed activity and placed somewhere else. In essence, we share our respect for the tool in order that others may adopt the same respect.

I call on those experienced gun owners to share the respect they have for their firearms with others in the hopes that folks will learn the responsibility one must assume if someone wishes to own and use a gun. I also call on gun owners to hold other gun owners, gun sellers, gun lobbies, well…anyone that has anything to do with guns to hold each other to the same responsibility. Those gun owners I know are responsible, yes, but, as we can clearly see, there are those that are, shall we say, less than responsible with their firearms and need to be held accountable before an accident can take place. If you do not want the government doing it for you, then do it yourselves.

I’ve used the term respect with respect to firearms and the responsibilities therein. There is an altogether different area with which the term needs to be used in this writing.

Violence.

What is the most violent action you can think of? For me, it the taking of another human’s life. This also coincides with the most egregious form of disrespect, essentially having no respect for another human’s right to live at all. This is not a coincidence. Violence of any degree equates with disrespect. Period.

Let me be perfectly clear. Disagreeing with someone does not automatically mean that there is disrespect. I disagree with people all the time. It does not mean that I do not respect them, their right to an opinion, or their right to express it freely. Why do I respect that? Because I have the right to believe that their opinion is wrong and the right to engage them in conversation and debate. Where disrespect comes into the equation is when anger ensues, and though not all anger grows into violence, it is always the starting place.

Talk about something that can be hard to do, well for me anyway. Talking with someone that I know in my heart of hearts to be wrong while at the same time maintaining my composure and respect for the individual and continuing to talk to the them rather than at them. In the past, admittedly, I have failed at this more than I have succeeded, but I am continually working to turn over a new leaf. If I find that I cannot maintain my composure and that the conversation is not going anywhere but in circles, I walk away…most of the time.

Anyway, back to the point…

Violence.

Respect.

Just like a child needs to be taught to respect the responsibilities of using a tool, a child must be taught to respect other people, even those that are different in one way or another…a respect of their basic humanity.

With respect, there can be no violence. Think about it. How can you commit a violent act against something or someone you respect? Even the smallest, most basic amount of respect, that people have the right to live without physical harm or mental anguish.

As I said before, anger breeds violence, and the anger that breeds that violence is the result of an animosity produced by an overt slight or a slight that is inferred by the recipient of a particular action or statement.

When I feel slighted and I can feel anger growing within me I know it is time to take a step back and regroup and compose myself or to just simply walk away from the confrontation. Not to walk away from it for good, because until a conflict finds a resolution most of the time, for me, that breeds resentment which can turn to bitterness and then to anger, which I have come to find is in no way productive whatsoever.

This, I firmly believe, is the key to finding a way to reduce violence. The first step is to look at yourself critically. There are not many things that are more difficult to do. Then ask yourself if when you communicate with people, are you talking to them or are you talking at them? Ask yourself if getting angry at the other side of the conflict, be it an individual or a group of people, is going to do anyone any good. Is it going to do anything more than raise your level of stress?

Then challenge another person to do the very same thing, and so on, and so forth. Like the bumper sticker says:

Be the change you want to see in the world.

Will violence among human-beings ever be eradicated? Probably not. Will massacres carried out with firearms and other weapons ever cease to exist? Doubtful.

Though I cannot help but think that every single impossibility that has ever become possible began small with seemingly infinite challenges standing in its way.

The wildcard is the same object as the challenge itself. Humanity.

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An Apathetic Thought

It was hardly twelve hours after the shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church occurred when I jumped online after having my first cup of coffee on Thursday morning. I saw the posted articles and statuses of folks on my news feed concerning the shooting and had a rather guilty thought.

See, the last thing I do most every night before I go to sleep is I tap on the email icon on my phone and have a final glance at any emails that have been sent my way. Usually, they end up being something that I do not read and I delete them, which is exactly what I did that night.

However, I recalled that one of the emails was a breaking news update from the New York Times and that the little preview stated that there was a shooting in Charleston, South Carolina.

I am going to share something with you that I think is strikingly grim and also not altogether uncommon…

My first thought was “oh great, another shooting…” Then I hoped that those I know living in the area were okay. Then I picked up the book I am currently reading, read some, and went to sleep. Then the morning comes…

Within seconds of checking my news feed, I was updated on the carnage that took place in that church in Charleston. A man (and I use the term loosely) gunned down a group of people gathered in worship and fled. The suspected shooter was later identified and found to be white, and the victims were identified and found to be black.

Within hours, really probably minutes, after the shooting, people began arguing with one another over various aspects of the incident they identified as most important such as the following:

The shooter was motivated by racial hate.
The shooter was motivated by hate of Christians and the Christian faith.
The shooter is crazy or mentally ill.

Hyperbolic rhetoric ensued on all sides. Exclamation points and capital letters sprouted all around, and people went about doing what they do best; they set up camp by drawing all of those with concurrent frames of mind to their side and made themselves distinct from the opposing side.

I don’t really want to get into the arguments of any side at this point other than to share my two cents put forth in the great social network debate:

There is one thing, and one thing alone, in my humble opinion, that we can glean from the news reports on this kid, Dylann Roof. He’s not crazy. He knows right from wrong. He ran in the hopes of not getting caught. His mental state should not be the focus of the discussion, but rather his motivations.

That was yesterday morning, and as far as I know, the shooter has not come forward and made public his motivations since he was apprehended.

What I want to focus on is my first thought upon learning that there was a shooting in Charleston…

“Oh great, another shooting…”

That was my first thought. THAT was my FIRST thought, followed by the side thought of hoping that those I know living there were okay and unharmed, followed by rolling over and going to sleep.

As I have gotten older and a little more mature (I stress “a little”), I have come more and more to abhor violence. I guess you could say that I am a pacifist, though I am not sure I would label myself as such. Yet even with my abhorrence of violent acts, I was able to rest comfortably and peacefully knowing that there was a shooting in another part of the world.

Why is that?

I am not a psychopath or sociopath. I feel empathy and sympathy. I even work to feel those “pathies” toward others with whom I do not readily identify or associate or know. Regardless of that work, I still find that apathy somehow finds a way into my heart and way of thinking.

One answer to the above question is that violence in some form or another is occurring anywhere at any time or at all times. If I allowed all of these acts of violence to keep me up at night I would never know sleep, or if I allowed these acts to constantly lay on my heart, I would never know peace. So in order to sleep or to find peace, I put those acts out of my mind.

I’d like to think that that is the answer I am looking for, but I cannot help but consider that there is another answer that is more appropriate, like this one:

Violence is occurring all the time in various places. It is part of the human experience, always has been, always will be, so why lose sleep over it?

That is probably a more apt response concerning my state of mind two nights ago, and I am pretty ashamed of it.

Even with the personal shame I feel, that is an all to common response, and it is accepted in society today. Think about it. An individual, such as myself, can willingly choose to feel apathy toward violence or an individual violent act and it is seen as acceptable and justified by another person or a group of people, and I am ashamed of that, too.

We’re Doing It Wrong.

I just finished reading this article talking about the creation of bullet-proof blankets for children at school.  I applaud the creator for thinking of, and making, something that can provide even a modicum of safety and security for our young people, but it deeply saddens me that such an idea was even contemplated in the first place.

It saddens me that our society is so drenched in violence that people are completely desensitized to it.  It saddens me that we have allowed it to happen.  We condone it every day, either actively or passively.  We glorify it rather than reflect and learn from it so that it doesn’t happen again.  We memorialize violent acts through memorializing the victims rather than doing anything to ensure, or even partially prevent, such acts from ever occurring again.  And it keeps happening more and more and more.

Apparently, such thinking is considered naïve and unrealistic.  I mean, how does anyone think that all violence can be stopped?  It’s impossible.  Violence is going to occur.  It is going to happen, so why try to stop it?  Kind of reminds me of a phrase I heard after two boys got into a fight, “oh well, boys will be boys.” This coming from the father of one of the boys.  This.  This is part of the problem, but only part, but it does get us closer to the source, but that comes later.

Through our actions and words we advocate violence as a method of solving problems, or better yet, eliminating them.  We do not deal with it.  We beat it into submission until it goes away or erase issues from our consciouses altogether.

Think about this.  No war has ever ended because the ones doing the fighting ran out of bullets or bombs.  Wars are ended at tables or desks, and with pen, paper and discussion.

Violence tends to come about because someone wants something they feel they cannot get through other means, or, maybe, the perpetrators of violence believe it to be the most effective, or easiest, means with which to obtain what it is they desire.

Example:

My brother and I are two years apart in age.  I am the older.  He, the younger.  We fought all the time, and it was usually because one of us had something, or was doing something, the other wanted or wanted to do.  When the one doing would not give, shouting typically ensued.  Then when the yelling did nothing, pushing, shoving, grabbing, arm twisting, and punching started.  Sometimes it was effective. Most of the time, however, not so much.  What usually happened was that the parents would intervene and we were both denied, so we both lost. Violence accomplished nothing.

We are better than the violence we see or read about everyday.  We are put together with minds that understand compassion, that have empathy.  We have minds that are capable of understanding and working through issues in a nonviolent manner.  Such is much more challenging than escalating to violence. Challenges that require constant work do not bode well for a society that craves instant gratification.  We are willing to work ourselves to the bone in order to obtain what we want or need materially.  Adults get in fist fights while Christmas shopping, think about that, too.  Yet, when it comes to being better humans or being more humane, “ain’t nobody got time for that.”  Do you think we have a problem yet?

We are better than the violence that people protect themselves from everyday.  Some carry a firearm with them everywhere they go.  What does that say about a society when, number one, one feels that in order to feel safe going to the grocery store they have to be packing a pistol, or number two, that such would even be condoned?  What does it say about a society in which an individual develops bullet-proof blankets in the hopes that they will save children’s lives at school?  What does it say about a society that even considers arming teachers or other school faculty and staff to provide security at a school?  What does it say about a society that attempts to solve problems by throwing possible solutions at the symptoms of the issue rather than the source? It’s kind of like trying to cure strep throat by placing a cool cloth on a fevered forehead.

What is the source?  Where does the violence come from?  Does it come from within?  Or from without?

I have my ideas, most of which lie within society itself, but I am sure it is not that simple.  Most of the ideas that I have are simply symptoms, but maybe not.  As I said before, we glorify violence.  We watch it on television.  Often times some pay extra to watch human beings beat one another senseless for money.  People promote this.  People participate in it, and people pay to watch it.  Name another species of animal on the planet that does this.  Sure, there is violence within other parts of the animal kingdom.  There are challenges for dominion and killing done for the purposes of survival.  We, on the other hand, have forward thinking, intellect, and reason. We can see, process, and understand the consequences of our actions.  Such sets us apart from what we see on Animal Planet or the Discovery Channel.  I mean, if they show documentaries anymore besides Shark Week.

The violence that I am thinking about is not only gun violence.  We are surrounded by violence of all kinds.  People are killed by violent people with guns, knives, or bare hands to name a few tools.  Some tools make it easier to kill than other ones.  Some tools were made specifically for the purpose of unleashing death.  Some tools are misused and become harbingers of death.  This is a hotly contested debate that only attempts to control a symptom of the problem and not the problem itself.

People kill or beat out of perceived necessity, desire, or fear.  People commit violence due to a lack of understanding and/or compassion for those that live lives in a different way.  People kill or harm in order to defend the ones they love and what is theirs. People kill out of anger.  People kill or commit violence because of a lack of empathy toward fellow human beings.

Earlier, I wrote of what saddens me about all of this, but here is what saddens me the most…

Some, many maybe, will read this post and scoff. They will consider it naïve, immature, idealistic, and unrealistic. The response will be that violence cannot be ended. There has always been violence.  There will always be violence. There are violent people in the world. There is nothing that can be done about that.

We will quit before we even get started. It will end before it begins. The idea will fail before even having the opportunity to succeed.

There is a quote from one of Noam Chomsky’s most recent books,  Hopes and Prospects, I particularly enjoy, and I think it bears stating here:

“Historical amnesia is a dangerous phenomenon, not only because it undermines moral and intellectual integrity, but also because it lays the groundwork for crimes that lie ahead.”

Essentially, what we do not remember or learn from our history, we are doomed to repeat it. As our society continues to disconnect from one another, the human connections we are possible of establishing and maintaining will continue to wither.  Rather than being seen as people, we will see each other as small square profile pictures with little thought or regard toward the person within the photo; lacking the compassion or understanding to even attempt to see their struggles or feelings or their hopes and dreams.

What makes us human and separates us from the rest of the world is that we have this conscious choice. We can choose to be empathetic, compassionate, and understanding people; or we can choose to ignore this gift we have. Some say it is God given. Some say it is simply an evolution of animal psychology. That does not matter here. Whether it is given to us by God or by Nature, it is being thrown away with little regard for the consequences that we can more than easily see every single time another human being is murdered or beaten or raped by another human being.

We are supposed to be a civil species at either the pinnacle of evolution or made distinctly in God’s image. You choose your belief. I personally believe that we are failing on both counts, and the continued violence and glorification and justification, either active or passive, of it is a perfect and sad illustration of that failure.