In the wake of such a tragedy as Friday's school shooting in Newtown, Conn., I'v gotta say, America, you've let me down a bit.
If this sounds cynical, it's because it is. I'm getting cynical, folks.
I've turned off the 24-hour cable news coverage because aside from very specific details, I can follow the unfolding story without it. America seems to have mindlessly developed a sort of cookie-cutter approach to managing crises and instead of helping us to prevent another, the inaction underlying all of this "action" only guarantees it'll happen again.
What do I mean by this?
With so much exposure to various media nowadays, our country (and the world) have become focused more on image than actual action. In other words, mere appearance is generally enough to convince people. Politicians are notoriously familiar with this concept: Speaking to an audience of soldiers will show people I support the military. Touring the damage of a natural disaster will show people that I'm serious about repair. A photo-op in front of a big green tractor means I support farmers and spending a day in a soup kitchen will show I care about the poor. You get the gist.
So now, just three days after a crazed madman stormed through an elementary school in Connecticut, the country is running through the motions: Politicians are debating legislation on gun control; President Obama has relocated his podium; pundits aren't agreeing on anything; Michael Moore is blaming America's "gun culture"; and the media are working overtime to produce appropriately somber music and graphics to accompany its wall-to-wall & around-the-clock coverage.
Don't get me wrong -- each and every one of these things plays an important role in helping the country heal after such a tragedy, but none of them offers solutions for the future.
Consider this: It's been 13 years since two anti-social deviants unleashed hell on their classmates in a school shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. After murdering 12 students and one teacher, the mentally ill gunmen turned the murder weapons on themselves, opting for suicide rather than life in prison. Sound familiar?
- The Columbine massacre sparked widespread debate over gun control laws, specifically the availability of firearms in the United States. The tragedy also spurred discussions on bullying and social outcasts, the use of pharmaceutical anti-depressants by teenagers and the prevalence of violence in television, movies and video games.
- In a speech to the students and families of Columbine High School, President Bill Clinton told the audience that the shooting had “pierced the soul of America.”
He also said the tragic incident should be used as a tool for change, telling the students to speak about their experiences in order to effect changes in attitudes towards America’s youth.
- Michael Moore turned the tragedy into political commentary in Bowling for Columbine.
- And to hear the media tell the story at the time, you'd think it had been the first act of school violence EVER.
It's been five years since another mentally disturbed loner, Seung-Hui Cho, shot and killed 32 people and wounded 17 others on the campus of Virginia Tech.
There are common threads running through each of these tragedies -- crazy people.
Did you think I was going to say guns? While guns were involved in each of these incidents, they aren't the cause. On the same day as the Connecticut shooting, 22 schoolchildren were stabbed by a knife-weilding lunatic at a primary school in China. No guns involved, but 100% of the craziness.
Look also at the Bath School Disaster of 1927 which claimed the lives of 38 elementary school children, two teachers, and four other adults and left another 58 people seriously injured. The perpetrator -- a suicidal school official -- used bombs, not guns, to enact his murderous rampage and set off planned explosions at the Bath Consolidated School in Clinton Township, Michigan. Before disgruntled school board treasurer Andrew Kehoe offed himself, he murdered his wife and set fire to his property.
After each one of these tragedies, the second-most heartbreaking detail to emerge (after the names of the victims) is all of the witnesses who come forward to confirm that the perpetrator was indeed a troubled individual and that they weren't surprised to hear who had carried out the atrocities.
We can argue gun control if you want. We can even argue knife and bomb control. We can point fingers and call each other names. We can walk through the motions and carry on as usual until the next tragedy occurs. But we should do all of this realizing that none of it will do a thing to prevent further tragedy in the future.
Changing distressing patterns in society requires societal change, and societal change requires change in our local communities and within our own families. Relying on the government & image-focused politicians to make these important changes for us -- whether through regulation or legislation -- is a grave mistake that welcomes future heartache for more families.