It seems every week we are seeing another round of gun violence. It truly breaks my heart when we are witness to yet another death caused by the pulling of the trigger. I am not here to weigh in on the political spectrum of whether or not new laws will limit these outcomes. No, I am here still asking the question – as I am sure many of you are – “Why?” Why are people doing this?
I don’t think it’s a simple black-and-white answer. Some pull the trigger out of fear for their sense of survival. Others do it out of vengeance for some perceived wrong – whether to him/herself or someone else. In some cases, in particular where strong religious beliefs are concerned, shots are fired to stamp out “evil” and declare God’s “righteousness” and cleanse the earth of “those sinners.”
In any case, an “Us vs. Them” mentality is what has taken over. Within the mind of the shooter, no connection of humanity, empathy, or understanding toward the victim exists – at least, this is my observation. We know from WWII, the reason it was so easy for Nazi Germany to exterminate the Jews was because they didn’t see them as humans, but rather as vermin. They stripped any sense of humanity from the Jewish people -– nay, they refused to grant them any humanity and treated them as if they were a completely different species. It is an extreme proposition, to be sure, but it makes me wonder … Is this not a similar frame of mind within these modern day shooters? Have they separated themselves in their minds so far from their victims that they refuse to acknowledge any connection with them as being another human being? I think the answer is an obvious “Duh.”
It also makes me think about the insecurities of the shooter. Granted, in some crime scene situations where a police officer has to make a split-second decision if he feels his life is in danger, that’s one thing … But what about these events where it appears the shooter had been pre-planning the rampage all along? Or it seems a deep seated dislike (or hatred) of a group of people based on their ethnicity is driving the reaction? In either case, it still appears to be a sense of the shooter perceiving themselves as “right” while the victim “wrong” -– so wrong that the other's existence on this planet must be snuffed out. Again, “Us vs. Them”.
How do we combat this?
Not easily. It’s actually one of the core principles underlying many people’s sense of spirituality. In America, it’s a double-whammy because not only do we propagate it through religion, we also promote it through our economic system and sporting rituals.
What am I talking about?
On the religious side, it falls down to the “saint vs. sinner” philosophy. Either you follow God’s laws or you don’t. And if you don’t, even God will keep you separate from not only Him, but the rest of "goodly" humanity altogether as you burn in a lake of fire. You are either “righteous” or “unrighteous.” And all it takes is reading the comments section on any internet blogpost about LGBT people or abortion to see the “Us vs. Them” mentality at play from the fundamentalist's religious mindset. Many declare “hate the sin, not the sinner,” but deep down you can see this really isn’t what’s in their heart, as they demonize the “transgressors” with the type of afterlife they will most certainly be suffering, based upon their beliefs. The notion of being attached to a particular “sin” automatically downgrades the humanity of the sinner in the eyes of the believer, simply because they see that person as thumbing their nose to God -– and are thus not worthy of true love or acceptance. Of course, they try to recuse themselves of any responsibility by declaring “Don’t blame me – God says He hates you... I am just following what's written in His word.” Let’s face it, if you’re not “saved,” you’re facing extermination on a level far beyond that of even the Jews in Nazi Germany. We need to realize this very uncomfortable truth: it is one level of extreme belief at play in our gun-toting culture. To ignore it is to be an ostrich with its head in the sand.
Second is our own economic system. Not to diss capitalism, but we work through a belief in the value of competition. And let’s face it, though competition can be done in a positive, uplifting way with fantastic results (where we are grateful to our competitors for helping us strive and achieve), we often look at our competition through a less than stellar lens. “We need to outdo them. We need to compete against them in the marketplace in order to grab a person’s dollar before they give it to the competition.” This also puts the mind into an “Us vs. Them” framework, leading us again down that road where we end up viewing the competition as being separate from us and -- through a sense of intention -- make them out to be somehow “less than.”
And sports? Just watch any game –- Superbowl or regular match –- and you’ll see how people view the “other” team.
We are bombarded with this type of separation from each other constantly. Quite frankly, it appears to me to be the American Way. Individual Liberty - though a beautiful concept – also invites us to sneer at those we don’t agree with. It gives us permission to see those who do not agree with us as “different,” which consistently results in “less than.” Though we are the “United States” we are (more or less) the “Divided Individuals.”
Unfortunately … in order to snap us back to the notion that we are all One on some level, it requires the extreme of this type of situation: a mass shooting.
Though I do believe in sensible gun control laws, I believe they won’t solve the problem. Perhaps the real resolution lies in celebrating our connectedness to each other and all things. Perhaps it lies in not highlighting our differences (and thus talking about unification through tactics of fearing another class of people), but rather shining a light on all that we share -– the love all of us can feel inside for someone or something else; the joys and the challenges of unfolding a life in unpredictable landscapes, weather patterns, and economic uncertainties; the sense of loss we feel at the death of a loved one. Coming together as a country or a species doesn’t need to be at the behest of a tragedy such as a mass shooting or terrorist attack, it is just as easy (if not easier) to simply DECIDE and ACKNOWLEDGE that we all are sharing this life journey and –- at our very foundation -– are not at all different from one another, but are really rather the same. Yes, there are differences, but when compared to what we all share, those differences are ultimately superficial. However, we are the mercy of the old adage: You get what you focus on. So if you focus on the differences, those are what you’ll see. And “Us vs. Them” is what you’ll get. What a tangled web we weave.
Now imagine what the world would be like if we were to focus on all that which we share. Which unites us. And really FOCUS upon it. Engage in activities that celebrate Unity instead of Divisiveness. Religious sermons that talk about the Oneness of All with the Higher Spirit (God, if you prefer) instead of separation and the downtrodden path of the “sinner” (Personally, I think an overhaul in religion is well past-due).
It’s easy to kill when you see the others as “different” because you automatically dissociate yourself from having any connection with the other person at all … on any level. And that is the big lie. When you start to realize that at our foundation we are really all One… Upon pulling the trigger you have not only taken one life, you have also -– in a sense -– exterminated the foundation of your own.