Finding Hope In The Midst of Mass Shootings

There is a disgusting little dance we do every time there is another mass shooting in America. Here is what it looks like:

  • News of yet another mass shooting comes out.
  • There are renewed calls for some kind of regulations that might help prevent such tragedies.
  • “Pro-Gun” folks accuse anyone speaking of changing laws or regulations as trying to “Politicize a tragedy.”
  • “Anti-Gun” folks start quoting statistics about gun violence. Like the fact that there have been at least 986 mass shootings in American since the Newtown massacre in December of 2012. Or that the Oregon shooting is the 45th school shooting already this year. Or that in America, more preschoolers are shot dead each year (82 in 2013) than police officers are [shot dead] in the line of duty (27 in 2013).”
  • “Pro-Gun” people will say things like “More regulations are not the answer, because criminals don’t obey the laws anyway,”or things like “If we outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns,” and they will proclaim that the real problem is mental illness.
  • “Anti-Gun” people will say no one is trying to “outlaw all guns,” but maybe we could more strictly regulate the ones that make it really easy to kill a whole bunch of people at once. And they’ll admit the mental illness is part of the problem, but the fact that there are so many guns, and they are so easy to get, is a also a big problem.

    It doesn't make sense to me either.

    It doesn’t make sense to me either.

  • “Pro-Gun” people will say the problem is there aren’t ENOUGH guns…. That what we really need is MORE people with guns. So they can stop the bad guys.
  • Many on each side see the gulf between the two ideologies as too wide to even have something resembling a conversation, and they decide to not talk about it anymore.
  • Then, if the protests from the “Anti-Gun” side go on too long, the NRA says to its members, “Look, the liberals are trying to take away your guns!” and a ridiculous amount of them write angry letters and call their representatives to yell. And nothing changes. Every single thing stays the same…. Except that they might pass some legislation written by the NRA that makes it harder to keep track of gun violence.
  • More and more people sink into cynicism and despair about this whole disgusting dance. And they decide that there is nothing that can be done. And they lose hope.
  • Somewhere, in a very large house, a man lights a cigar with a $100 bill, and smiles….
We cling to the things that are most important to us.

We cling to the things that are most important to us.

I think that a part of my own soul died when nothing was done after the Newtown massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary. After that, I was one of those people who thought, “What’s the point? Nothing’s going to ever change.” I admit that when thinking about writing this post, I thought, “What’s the point?” Like a lot of you, I figured if something like the murders of 20 first graders in an elementary school can’t inspire us to even take STEPS toward lowering gun violence, then what could? Most of the people currently making the laws in this country are in the pockets of the NRA, and the impasse between the two sides just seems too difficult to overcome. When a bunch of kids get shot, and one side has a starting place of “Less Guns!” and the other side has a starting place of “More Guns!” the chances of compromise seem pretty slim. And when there is very little hope, there is very little action. Please watch this speech by President Obama….

Our thoughts and prayers are NOT enough….

The past couple of days, I’ve been thinking about my first real job. And a ladder…. Before I moved to Nashville, I worked at a Camp. It was basically the coolest job ever. There were all kinds of groups that came out to Camp–Everything from schools councils, to church groups, to alternative learning classes, to corporate trainings, to professional athletic teams, to family reunions…. A whole lot of different kinds of groups. What I did there was called “Experiential Education.” We would basically have an experience as a group, we would talk about what happened, talk about what significance that experience had, and then talk about how we might be different as a result of the experience. There are all kinds of experiences that lend themselves to learning in groups, but one of the things I did was bring groups of people up onto a high ropes course.

Oh Ralphie.... When will you learn?

Oh Ralphie…. When will you learn?

The high ropes course was on the side of a hill, so the entrance to the course was a ladder that only went up about 15 feet…. But as you went out farther into the course, you ended up over 50 feet in the air. From the highest point in the course, you could take a zip line down to the ground. For a lot of people, the high ropes course caused a lot of stress. Turns out that the fear of heights is a very real thing for some people. People would take one look at those wires 50 feet above the ground attached to those oak trees, and they would say, “Not a chance in hell.” Those were my favorite sorts of people. And many of those “No-freaking-way” sorts of people would say it for a good reason, too. Many of them had multiple experiences with heights that made them CERTAIN that this course was going to be impossible for them to do. They would look at those wires, those trees, those heights, and they would think, “What’s the point? I’m just going to fail.” Their experiences had taught them to be sure that they couldn’t do it.

But here’s the thing: It wasn’t just one person out there looking at the high ropes course…. It was a group. And the cool thing about a group is that sometimes when you are certain something can’t be done, other people aren’t as sure. Instead of focusing on what CAN’T be done, we would ask the person what they thought they COULD do:

“Would you be comfortable putting on a harness and encouraging the rest of the group?”
“How about getting on belay…. Could you do that?”
“Would you be willing to challenge yourself to take one step up the ladder?”
“How about two steps?” 
“Do you think you might be able to touch the top rung of the ladder?

Some people saw the course and made a face similar to this.

Some people saw the course and made a face similar to this.

Sometimes people would make it up to the top of that 15 foot ladder, and they would come right back down. Sometimes they would make it to the top and figure out that they can do a lot more of the course than they thought they could do. Sometimes they would make it two rungs up the ladder, and I could see them shaking like a leaf on one of those giant oak trees. They would start sweating, they would hug the ladder like it was the only thing keeping them alive, and we would have to talk them down from three feet in the air. No matter the result, I can tell you that the celebrations we had at that ladder were way more meaningful than any of the celebrations for the people who looked at that high ropes course and thought, “I can totally do that,” and then did it. Because the real goal—the real growth–was not in making all the way through the course and jumping off the zip line…. The real growth happened when you started to question the things you thought you knew about yourself.

One rung at a time.

One rung at a time.

If you’re CERTAIN that something is impossible, it will be…. But that’s where the group comes in–That’s the value of us not being alone. When we’re focusing on what can’t be done, the group steps in (the healthy group, at least) and asks “What CAN be done?” And uncertainty is the stuff of POSSIBILITY. Anything that can be done really easily is probably not worth doing. So when it seems like there is no hope of ever overcoming the enormous power and influence of the gun lobby, maybe just accept the challenge to put on your harness. When it seems like you are surrounded by ignorance and indifference, maybe just take one step up that ladder. And when it seems like the chasm between you and a person who is your ideological opposite is too great to even make an attempt at crossing, maybe start thinking, “If I can make it up two, maybe I can do three.” And before you know it, you’re at the top of the ladder, and you’re wondering what other things are possible…. 

We may not ever be able to stop the steady drumbeat of gun violence in this country…. At least maybe not in our lifetime. But if anything is ever going to happen, it’s going to take a bunch of people who at least believe it’s POSSIBLE to do something. So in the meantime, let’s try to be a healthy group. Let’s work on becoming the sort of group who isn’t sure what our limits are. And let’s focus on becoming the sort of people who encourage the ones who are certain it can’t be done. If there’s one thing we can learn from the NRA, it’s that our chances of making a difference are way better together than they are alone. Who knows what can be done….

But this is the truth: I’d rather be hopeful and wrong than cynical and right.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Kelsey. Not only was she one of the first people to support this blog (and me along with it) on my Patreon page, but she was one of the first campers I ever had the pleasure of watching let go of her fears. She has a thirst for adventure, and a fearlessness that inspires everyone around her. And she values what I am trying to do on this blog enough to support it. She is completely and totally kick ass. If you’re also interested in being a patron, you can check out the page RIGHT HERE. Thank you for reading!

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4 Responses to Finding Hope In The Midst of Mass Shootings

  1. Kathy says:

    I love this! Great column! Thank you.

  2. Becky says:

    You get it right every time. I too worked at a camp in my younger years where we had various initiative activities like the high ropes course and the wall (which was awesome.) Have you ever considered joining the Mennonites? You sound so much like us!

  3. Pingback: Please Stop Acting Like You Care About All These Shootings | The Boeskool

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