#24: Looking beyond for common ground.

The frustration, the helplessness and the impotent anger is all too familiar. “Here we go again,” I whispered to myself on hearing the news that another school shooting has happened. From
experience, I turned off the TV and minimized my exposure to the coverage that was coming out of Florida.  Not because I didn’t want to know, but because for my sanity I couldn’t imagine – again – a world in which I outlived you. It’s contemplating a pain so primal it’s hard to look upon its face.

But each event reminds me that my failure to fathom such events does not negate the reality of them.  I’m not a Pollyana and I don’t know the words to Kumbaya. But I struggle with “how do these events happen”? Looking on Wikipedia at a list of shootings, I actually had forgotten about a number of them.  Are we now in a world where such events are so commonplace that they are easy to forget?  It feels that way, at least.

The feeling of inevitability and powerlessness just compounds my anger. What’s happening is not a debate or dialogue, but entrenched interests shouting vaguely at one another, or speaking only to their constituencies.  I’ve heard it said that maybe this particular “debate” needs to include less emotion and more facts. But that ignores the reality in how we engage the world. We are emotional beings first, a fact which inevitably biases our decision making one way or another. Maybe we’re engaging the wrong emotion?  Perhaps the debate would be more fruitful if it was less about conservative vs liberal, and more about that underlying emotion.


We’re all scared.

Fear begs to be resolved, for it plagues us with discomfort and demands our attention.   The only substantial difference between the people that populate the poles of this debate is how they engage that fear.

Some choose to resolve it by investing in the feeling of one own’s agency, believing fervently that the right tool in a situation like that would prevent it from occurring entirely. Or that tool will keep one safe if it ever happened.  Their trust is placed in the belief that an individual can exert their control over that situation.

Some choose to resolve that fear by ensuring that the environment is made safe as possible.  The trust isn’t placed on the individual, but in making sure at least the harm to society is reduced.

The approaches are diametrically opposed, but they both take root from the same dark and uncomfortable place.   No matter how many mental layers we put on it – talking about what constitutes an assault weapon, or whether bump stocks are logical, or however we decide to arrange those particular chairs on the Titanic – that tension comes from the exact same place no matter where you are on the spectrum.

So let’s use that.

The dialogue won’t really begin until we can engage it on the emotional level. Second amendment purists aren’t all ignorant rednecks who cradle their guns at night with ties to the radical right. Gun control advocates aren’t all wimpy spineless lame-os clad in red salivating at the thought of curtailing their fellow citizen’s freedoms.  We’re simply all humans that are deeply afraid with varying responses to that fear.

I’d much rather have a conversation with someone that starts from that premise, a shared experience that can be built upon. No matter what I think of where we are – and I think plenty – things will only change when that conversation can truly happen and we can see beyond the rhetoric and are open to the other. Which consequentially, gives them a reason to open to us.

Even though you are “only” a child, you seem to have an innate awareness of this need for connection, even admist (or especially during) a struggle.  For example, right now one of our family’s particular pain points is cleaning up what has been played with before moving on to something else.  The other day you pointed out to me that you didn’t like when I yelled at you to clean up your Legos.

“Daddy, don’t do that! Your yelling makes me mad.”

“Well, how else will you listen?” I asked with a scowl, hands on my hips and biting back my observation that I had “asked”- a thousand times before.

“Maybe just ask me nicely next time and explain why.”

I clamped my mouth to prevent what I really wanted to say about the “why”, but I decided to stifle that response. I swallowed my reaction and simply said, “Okay, we’ll try that.”

And next time? I tried it. “Will you please clean up your Legos? It’s time to clean up before dinner.”  You looked at me, considered the shared goal – my pesto pizza, waiting for us – and our previous conversation. So with a gap-toothed grin you said, “Sure!” and promptly did what I asked.

As you came up the stairs you observed, “See? That worked.”

Apparently, you already have more wisdom than some of our leaders.