Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Can We Avoid Tragedy?

Tragedy has struck the US yet again. Last week, just before Christmas, a young man gunned down 20 children and 6 adults in an elementary school in Sandy Hook, CT. Before that, another young man opened fire at a crowded theater in Colorado. And before that another young man tried to kill a senator, another went after a college campus, still others hit a high school (Columbine, if you don't remember that far back). Every time it happens, we are shocked at how someone could do something so horrible, what is wrong with these people, why does it happen, how do we stop it. But the question is, can we stop it?

Every time something of this magnitude strikes, fingers are pointed and the blame game is played. Gun control needs to be increased, security measures need to be taken, violent video games need to be banned, bloody movies should be removed, and on and on and on. My personal favorite places to set the blame are the news stations. They eat up tragedy and spit it back to us in regurgitated form until we've consumed so much of it that we can't see straight or tell up from down. I can't watch the news anymore. They rarely report anything good. They feed off the bad in the world and sensationalize even the smallest things. Events like Columbine and this recent shooting are what they thrive off of, and yet people love it. They spend hours watching every little detail, every interview with anyone who may have seen or heard anything. They scour the internet to find out everything they can about the most recent attacker and his victims. Those left alive can't grieve in peace. They have cameras shoved in their faces at all hours of the day, forced to relive the moments of terror to every passing reporter or be hounded until they cave in.

Another factor in these mass homicides is very obviously mental illness. After the fact, we always find out that "something was off about that person" or the neighbor declares, "They seemed dangerous to me." No one ever says, "He was such a nice boy. Helped me with my groceries, helped his mother set the table every night, was the captain of chess club." So if it's so obvious that these people need help, why aren't they getting it before they snap and do something that can't be taken back? Our mental health system sucks horribly. People need help, but they don't get it. Or they get it for a short while and then are dismissed because they figure out how to show people just enough to get by. Then they spiral out of control again and eventually something really bad happens.

When tragedy strikes, we look for something to blame, some way to make it all make sense. We look for ways to fix it, to make it all better, to stop it from happening again. But can we stop it? Mass homicides aren't just a problem in the US. On the same day as the Sandy Hook shooting,  a man in China attacked children at a school, injuring 23 people. Other acts of violence on this scale have happened all over the world. Until we realize that there isn't just one issue, that it is a combination of issues that have to be tackled long before it reaches the point of mass violence, until we do that, nothing will change. Taking away guns won't solve it. Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people without the use of any guns. How do you afford to beef up security in every school when you can't even put decent textbooks in half of them? Removing video games, movies, or books will do nothing but anger the 99.9% of people out there who aren't influenced to kill by them.

So what do we do? What can we do? Sadly, I think the answer is nothing. Until people can get the help they need long before the issue grows to the point of violence, nothing is going to change. And for that to happen, we would need this world to become more of a community, to support those struggling internally. We find it easy to band together when something horrible happens, so why is it so hard to offer that helping hand to the one person who may be able to stop that from happening, the attacker himself (or herself) before it happens? Unfortunately, I just don't see that change happening. We live in a world where everyone must have their privacy. You can't speak up about someone unless they do something criminal. It's easy for these disturbed individuals to slip into the shadows where they stew until they grow so agitated, they do something rash. This is going to keep happening again and again, and I don't see anything ever really changing.