Sandy Hook as Opportunity for Healing : Facing Fear & Fostering Fearlessness

These words are addressed to those who would be agents of healing. (To live up to the name Santikaro — Peaceworker — I aspire to serve a world aching for less violence.)

How might healing come about in the aftermath of Sandy Hook? In a society of deep fissures and antagonisms, yet connected under the identity “American,” how might we talk amongst ourselves, especially across the divides, so as to bring us a little closer to mutual kindness and understanding? In a society prone to believing in the false notion of closure, apt to charge ahead with poor memory, and liable to forgetting without acknowledging the ugly and painful, how might we make time and space for healing?

First, let’s not demonize anyone. Healing is impossible when we denigrate the humanity of NRA members, gun control advocates, the mentally ill, politicians, or vegetarians. Accepting the humanity of the various players — comrades in birth, aging, illness, and death all — allows us to listen to the feelings, pain, and fears beneath the opinions, policies, and posturing. While acknowledging the NRA’s institutional complicity with the gun industry, we must listen to the gun owners fearing that their weapons will be taken away, that they will be defenseless in a dangerous world they don’t recognize “us,” or that they’ll be at the mercy of an intrusive government. If we don’t address these fears, even when those who hold them don’t acknowledge their fears, we will antagonize the decent, responsible gun owners who don’t want military weapons on the streets any more than we do. If we cling to a perspective of “that doesn’t make any sense,” forgetting what makes sense to me may not make sense to others, we trap ourselves in a position of unkindness and stubborn futility.

Second, we must communicate to gun owners that some of us, lots of us, don’t see gun ownership as an option. We don’t want to carry — concealed or not — and aren’t comfortable with people we don’t know carrying concealed weapons in places we must go. More guns stirs more fear in us. All these guns in our society make us cringe, which doesn’t make us un-American any more than a fondness for guns does. Sure, we remember and appreciate the good neighbor who hunts responsibly, respecting property boundaries and regulations. Still, the “answer” of more guns — such as in the holsters of school personnel — does not make us feel safe.

I believe that we must put our fears on the table to beginning creating a space where America, starting on the local level, begins to face its fears, which are legion. The analysis in Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine remains spot on: this is a fear-driven society, supplemented by greed and hatred. Buddhists recognize these three poisons and commit ourselves to
relaxing and releasing them. This aspiration can be shared by all persons of goodwill.

We must communicate are right to not like guns, while at the same time being clear that this doesn’t mean a judgment on those who do like them, or that we wish to have them taken away. Not liking guns is a freedom too. Cam we create space where we acknowledge our differing likes and dislikes without belittling or attaching each other? This seems especially crucial when both are stirred up with fear.

Gun owners and gun abstainers both have fears and we need to start with this acknowledgment. Otherwise, we will never get to the level where the real action is. Only then can we begin to talk about finding a non-competitive resolution to our apparently opposing fears.  Except when confronted by a direct, immediate threat to our safety, fear is a matter of perception. In this, we surpasses other mammals. While they know fear, they don’t concoct nearly as creatively as we do. Nowadays, we have profit-seeking media and politicians who put loads of resources into feeding fear.

As a society, we are manipulated by this, shades of demagogues like McCarthy, Stalin, and Hitler. Must we wait for leaders to free of us this  cultural paranoia? Can we start freeing ourselves in our neighborhoods, communities, coffee shops, and the like?

There are many players to involve in honest dialogue. What of the police who must deal with these issues on multiple levels, including seeing the way too many dead bodies? Can the old 60s folks with lingering old-hippiesque ideas give up seeing police officers as “pigs” and figure out what we want from them and how to work with them? Sure, organizationally they have often served the interests of the powerful and wealthy. Yet, they are mainly working folks like us who need to be part of a people’s soul-searching.

What of EMTs, nurses, doctors, and other medical personnel who deal with the wounds, emergencies, and corpses? What of the clergy, social workers, and bereavement counselors? What of the teachers and school administrators who must make tough decisions with scant resources and outrageous pressures? I’ve named just some of the partners in dialogue if we are to halt the escalation of violence and violent solutions.

Tragedies like Sandy Hook are always opportunities for change: will it be wise and compassionate or self-centered? Will it be segregating or healing?

Mr Rodger’s mother once told him “to look for the helpers” in a time of crisis or tragedy. Who are the helpers? Maybe we must also look to ourselves.

 Insights from a day with Tender Shoot of Joy in Milwaukee contributed to this post.

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