"What can we...?"
First, my sincere and heartfelt sympathies go out to everyone in the Virginia Tech community. I have been thinking almost nonstop about all of those who lost a friend or loved one, and those who are part of that university’s community*.
I wanted to write sooner, but, truth is, I’ve been avoiding the world. I’ve been avoiding television news, the web, and the newspaper. I’m in the middle of a bit of a funk, and it expresses itself in the form a profound (deep and sincere) concern about our country**. We celebrate cruelty in the form of shock radio. Per capita, we have a higher rate of homicide and other violent crime (not war related) than any other country in the world. We worship guns and despise public schools. When tragedy strikes, we seem to ask all the wrong questions.
In the moments after the tragedy, news media raced to Blacksburg to cover the horrific event. I understand that. Pointed questions were directed at the university administration, and, to a certain extent, I understand that too (I might have asked them much later). But the next morning, while watching CNN (my finger on the remote for a quick channel change in case TinyE walked into the room), I heard a reporter say “all over America people are waking up, and they’re asking the same question…”
Then he said “how did this happen?”
That is not the question I was asking. I wasn’t even really asking “why” yet. I was still stuck on “what.”
What can we do to support Virginia Tech and Blacksburg?
What can we do to decrease hate?
What can we do to change the direction of our country?
I really, really feel that America is heading for collapse. I don’t think of myself as a fatalist, but we do so many horrible things, and our after-the-fact analysis seems to make it worse, not better. We seem to ask the wrong questions. As a result, we propose the wrong solutions. I’m just waiting for some deeply misguided fool to argue that if there were more guns, this type of crime would be less likely to happen.
One other thought on this horrible tragedy with the prospect of more later. I’m 100% convinced that, after mass murders of this sort, we should all but ignore the perpetrator. It is appropriate to say who he or she was. It is appropriate to offer a small note of what was wrong with him or her. But posting manifestos, publishing photos, linking to videos – it all has the effect of giving a forum for hate, sickness and cruelty. For our brothers and sisters who are damaged and contemplate the same kind of horror, they can count on disrupting the President’s schedule***, putting flags all over the country at half mast, and getting tons and tons of attention and publicity. The Columbine assassins acknowledged that they would be notorious, and the Blacksburg assassin did as well (if only impliedly). I don’t suggest that providing the showcase creates or even inspires the crime, but I don’t think it helps matters at all. What if our response was to say:
"Cho Seung-Hui is the suspected gunman. He was a senior at Virginia Tech. He had a history of mental illness. He is survived by two parents who need our support and compassion."
Make all the other things (photos, videos, manifestos, etc.) available to those who need to see them. Years later, open them for the public to see. But so soon after the tragedy, I think it would be better to turn all the hate and violence into a call for compassion and love.
More than anything, when bad things happen, I’d like for us to ask different questions…start them with “what can we…”
*A colleague has a nephew at Virginia Tech, and a former colleague has a daughter there. Both are alive and did not lose a close friend in the tragedy, but both are part of the VT community.
**Don Imus, the ignorant response to Imus’s appalling (and long-standing) bigotry, the recent Supreme Court opinion contracting abortion rights, increases in poverty and the gap between the rich and poor, Alberto Gonzales - the whole DO”J”, and a horrible, horrible crime in Minneapolis aren’t helping matters any. If our country were a coalmine, there would be dead canaries everywhere and millions of us walking around with no oxygen masks on wondering why we have a headache. Things are desperate in America; we’re in dire straits. We absolutely must pay attention to what's wrong and do something about it. Spike Lee said it best years ago: WAKE UP!
***And our poor President – he just lacks the moral authority to make the kind of statement he made in Blacksburg at the memorial service when he said:
“It's impossible to make sense of such violence and suffering. Those whose lives were taken did nothing to deserve their fate. They were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now they're gone -- and they leave behind grieving families, and grieving classmates, and a grieving nation.”
As I heard him say those words, another senseless act of violence and suffering was foremost on my mind. And it makes me sad that the leader of our country sounds hollow and hypocritical when he speaks against violence and suffering.