Are We Doing All We Can?

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.

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9 thoughts on “Are We Doing All We Can?

    • That is exactly where I come out. I don’t yet know what exactly I can do as an individual to change this, but I do know that to be satisfied with myself, I need to do SOMETHING. No more wondering when someone else is going to fix things. It’s a huge, expansive problem. Going to take everyone’s efforts to fix it. Thanks for reading and your sage input.

  1. Nice post, Tina. I feel exactly the same way…, but I also don’t know what to do and where to start. I need to figure out what that one thing I’m passionate about changing is, then focus all my energy into doing something about it (which is much easier said, than done).

    • Thanks, Chris. It’s so hard. I have thought of you a lot this weekend and how hard your Friday must have been. I haven’t felt this helpless since 9/11, but after 9/11, I really didn’t feel like there was much I could do individually to prevent it from happening again. This time, it is different. I feel I have to at least try to make a difference. One glimmer of hope I see is that everyone seems to feel this way – that we NEED to effect change. It is such a multi-faceted issue that I hope we each choose the aspect that speaks most directly to us and then pursue them with the fire of a thousand suns. These issues didn’t develop overnight and they won’t change overnight, but I think that we citizens certainly have. And that’s a start.

      • But just like 9-11, I’m worried that in a month’s time, everyone outside of Newtown will just get caught up in their daily routines and any momentum they felt to make a change will be lost. The question is, how to do you stay focused and motivated enough to do something?

  2. @Chris. I have the same concern. I don’t have the answer, but that certainly is an important question. I have started making a contact list for all of my elected officials – I feel like if I have a written list in front of me, I am unlikely to ignore it. Whether I storm gun control, mental illness treatment or another aspect, I figure it will involve them, so I want that list as a visual reminder on my desk while I sort through my thoughts. I have already contacted the 24-hour tabloid – I mean news- stations and expressed my views, as well as informed them that I am asking my cable operator to remove their channels from my service. I can get all the news I need from the nightly broadcasts on our local stations, and I want to send them a message in terms that they will understand – that if they don’t change how they operate, they will lose viewers. I figure that if I get balls rolling now, while I am focused, I will be more likely to follow up later, whether it is because they respond back and I need to reply or because they don’t respond back at all, which will piss me off and make me even more focused.

  3. @Chris, and you know I’m a realist. We cannot all become Carolyn McCarthys; my hope is that even if everyone takes small steps, we can make a meaningful difference. Honestly, just doing research on my elected officials, keeping tabs on what they are doing and actively voicing my position on issues that mean something to me, as opposed to passively letting them know with my vote every few years, is more than I have been doing thus far.
    I don’t know, but with 9-11, I really felt that I could do nothing, Addressing the issues surrounding Al Queda seemed way beyond the reach of anything I could accomplish. This, though, is immersed in political issues that come up all the time. I feel that even if we just pay more attention to them, it will give energy toward solving the issues and will help.

  4. I think we should start with gun legislation…I realize there are other factors that went into Newton and we can’t take away rights of others when it is not the main reason for this tragedy but the level of weaponry available to the average citizen is frightening. Who are we going to offend by eliminating military grade weaponry from being available? The Gun Enthusiast? Is that really a term for a rational person in society? Someone who loves guns? I get it, some people think its cool to collect old guns as a piece of history (I don’t think I understand it but some people are collectors). Others collect handguns, why I don’t know…and yet others collect military grade weaponry (which disturbs me beyond belief). I read an article yesterday in the NY Times and a comment about shooting an assault rifle at a range was something to the effect of “it’s a lot of fun”…wait what? Guns should not be fun, they aren’t meant for fun…they are for war or protection…neither of which are fun. Anyway, reigning my rant back in…gun legislation needs to be overhauled…the fact that you can easily BUY AN ASSAULT RIFLE ON THE INTERNET FOR LESS THAN AN IPOD is ridiculous…and they will ship it right to your door…unfortunately I can’t get one in California because my government is so damn oppressive but hey, if you live in Nevada…game on! Anyway, thanks for writing this…I have been beating myself up in the same way and my girlfriend and I are trying to figure out what we can do to bring about change…we can definitely start with writing and calling our representatives.

    • Please rant. Please rave. Please offend. I think our time for standing politely on the sidelines as the world goes mad around us has passed. I agree that gun regulation is HUGE. But since people can probably google how to build explosives and other dangerous objects, I don’t want the mental illness portion to get lost. Or the effects of constant exposure to violent images on TV, in movies, and particularly, in video games. It cannot be a coincidence that all of these massacres are carried out by people who seem to bear similar profiles. But yes, guns. As I mentioned in my initial post, I’m squeamish and don’t tolerate even virtual gun violence well, so I’m biased. But I cannot imagine how it can be “fun” to shoot anything stronger than a marshmallow shooter. So I’m not afraid of offending anyone who thinks oftherwise.
      It is overwhelming to even figure out where to start to help bring about change. I think that is where most of us are right now. Kudos to you and your girlfriend to devoting the time to brainstorming. That “start” will result in something positive, I am sure.

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