President Obama asked this question in his speech last night in Newtown – “ [C]an we truly say, as a nation, that we’re meeting our obligations? Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm?” His answer was a resounding No. I agree.
Fingers are being pointed everywhere, because the truth is that a lot of different factors contributed to create a society in which this kind of tragedy can occur, and we have not even yet begun to sort them out.
On my run this morning, I focused on President Obama’s words, and his all-important question: “Are we doing all we can?” The answer is abundantly clear. No, no we are not.
We, as a nation, have been too complacent when it comes to these kinds of tragedies. We mourn, we set up memorials, we send flowers and teddy bears and hang ribbons, but then we go back to our lives and don’t do enough to protect against them happening again.
People talk about gun control and mental illness, but when election time comes around, they rarely rate high on the discussion list. Like toddlers with an iPhone, we are too distracted by the sparkly Big Issues: Taxes, Abortion Rights, Budget Balancing – to focus on those “smaller” issues that are so, so much more important to daily life in a peaceful society.
We elect people who cannot even stick to relatively neutral positions – constantly pandering to what they think will get them re-elected – let alone be willing to take on a divisive issue like gun control, or mental illness, and fight for it until the battle is won. We need more Carolyn McCarthys, who will say what they stand for without reservation and then go fight for it. Over and over again.
I know I have been remiss in keeping my elected officials accountable. Sure, I vote in every election, but after I walk out with my “I Voted” sticker, what do I do? Nothing. I usually bitch about the results and then move on. And do nothing. I never let a Senator or Representative know that I’m paying attention to how they are doing (or not doing) their job. I don’t complain or make my frustrations known in any meaningful way. That’s the first thing I’m going to change. Our elected officials are there to serve us. How could I possibly have been so complacent in accepting their lack of action, their lack of leadership in serving my society’s needs? My taxes help fund their salaries. I have tolerated inaction from them that I would never tolerate in another employee. No more. Just as it their job to serve us, it is my job to see that they do just that. And I haven’t been doing my job either.
Media. Not a fan. Never was; less so now. If you want to see me roll my eyes out my head, just mention the call letters of any 24-hour news channel to me. I think they sensationalize the worst aspects of our society and only increase the divisiveness and hostility that permeates our nation. I think that they celebrate the sick and disturbing and yes, have contributed to a world where sickos decide to go out in a blaze of glory with a huge massacre rather than lock themselves in a garage with the car turned on.
Movies. Have we seen enough of people offing each other with machine guns yet? Have we watched enough plotlines where the bad guys are the likable guys, even if they do rob banks with heavy artillery, because they do it in a funny way? I’ll admit it; I have never liked shoot ‘em up action movies, so maybe I’m just biased. They bother me. They disturb me. But I’ve never voiced my dislike for them in any meaningful way other than declining to buy a ticket, much the same way that I have failed to voice my concerns over the media news coverage. Another thing that has to change. I have to write letters, make calls, do whatever necessary to make my concerns known, because if I do not, I am not doing everything I can.
Mental illness. We need to talk about it. We need to deal with it. We need to be strong enough to address the very sensitive and difficult issues that surround it. We need to recognize it and not ostracize people who have it, but at the same time, we need to have the guts to stand up and call it out when we see it. We have become so “P.C.” that people are afraid to say anything that could offend. People have all kinds of disabilities – some are physical, some emotional and mental. Just as we would not try and pretend that someone confined to a wheelchair isn’t limited in movement, we can no longer pretend that a mentally ill person can function without help, or perhaps can even function in general society at all. We see it all the time – that kid who repeatedly acts disturbed, the neighbor or coworker who exhibits clear signs of emotional imbalance. We can’t shun them – please don’t shun them – but we also can’t pretend that we don’t see what is obvious to us. We need to be aware. We need to pay attention. And if something needs to be said, we need to have the courage to say it to someone who can help address it. What are we afraid of? Overstepping? Offending someone? A lawsuit? (Call me; I’ll defend you. For free). None of these things that we are potentially afraid of are as valuable as a life.
As (almost) always, I’ll bring it back to sports, where I learned so many valuable lessons growing up. A good athlete has to have courage, heart and a willingness to try his or her hardest and never stop trying. A good athlete has to have respect for opponents on and off the field. A good athlete has to work together with teammates even when – especially when – he or she doesn’t like them. A good athlete sometimes has to make tough decisions, unpopular decisions. Sometimes even has to make decisions against his or her own selfish interests for the betterment of the team.
As a society, we should be a team, and in athletic terms, we are failing miserably. Not enough of us have been demonstrating courage and a refusal to give up. We haven’t been acting with respect toward each other, and not enough leaders have been willing to make tough and unpopular decisions. We have spent far too long fighting over the small things that divide us instead of working together toward the important things that unite us. Life. Love. Community. We most certainly have not been doing everything we can. I hope that this is a wake up call for everyone. I know it was for me.