Last week's Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy has of course been the focus of the news and all anyone is able to talk about on social media sites. It is hard to listen to the emerging details and I feel like everyone is feeling a tremendous amount of sympathy for the families and community directly affected. That aside, I have found that this horrible massacre, has really highlighted some things about how we feel towards grief in our society.
Monday morning, the KTLA news had a psychologist on to give advice on grief. Anyone who has read this blog long enough, will know that I am not a huge fan of psychology. However, I will give her credit for making some good points with regard to talking to children about Sandy Hook, mostly being upfront with them and trying to gauge what they already know, acknowledge their fears, while letting them know that they are safe.
What really turned me off about the whole segment was her expounding on how the community is feeling, with the news anchors egging her on to explain the emotions of the grieving community. They wanted firm answers. She went on to give a very text book type of description of the emotional state of the families and what they are going through and how long it ought to last.
She gave grief time tables.
I felt like this was so completely disrespectful. Firstly, anyone who has been through grief, knows that there is nothing text book about it. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Emotions are private. There is no time frame for "getting over it". Secondly, she was some therapist in Los Angeles, not part of the community affected. How dare she? As a global community, I feel like we are allowed to have our own sadness and fear regarding the shootings, but we also need to maintain a level of respect and distance for the people directly affected.
Anyone who has actually experienced grief, would never have the audacity to tell another person how they should feel. It's so private and individualistic.
That said, I feel that this indicative of a societal need to quantify things, it is our way of making sense. If you've never experienced grief, you don't understand it and you want to identify what's normal and be reassured that things will get better, you want that time frame. If you've experienced grief, you are still likely not part of the small community of people that have experienced it in such a horrific manner. It doesn't make sense and things that don't make sense are terrifying.
This is why people keep mentioning the level of this disaster. It needs to be put on a level of something that happens so rarely, that it couldn't happen again, not to us as individuals, not to our families. It's like people who have a fear of flying, making sure to remind themselves how statistically unlikely it is that will die in a plane crash. When they fit our needs, statistics can be comforting.
The news likes to focus on incidents that have happened in the last twenty or so years. or ones that have stayed relevant in pop culture, like Columbine, which always jumps to the forefront of everyones mind when another school shooting occurs. I used to think that I was happy to have graduated in 1995, as it seemed like there was a spike in school violence immediately after I graduated. While this may or may not be true, I really have not done research to make a qualified argument, I did recently hear learn about one school incident that oddly gets left out of the news.
The worst American school massacre occurred on May 18, 1927 in Bath Township, Michigan. Forty-five people were killed, when Andrew Kehoe, a former member of the school board, planted bombs around town, several in the school, one on his farm and one in his car. He killed his wife and many animals at his home, before attacking the school and finally killing himself in his car, also taking along the school superintendent, who was conversing with him right before the car bomb detonated.
Why is Bath massacre rarely mentioned? At first, I thought maybe it's because it happened so long in the past that is has been rendered irrelevant, but I think that the bigger issue is weapon of choice. Kehoe didn't use guns. For or against, the gun debate has been on the forefront of American minds for many years. The Bath massacre didn't involve guns, where as many of our modern tragedies do. This sticks Bath in a category in which it doesn't get compared to our modern school massacres.
I am in the anti-gun camp. I am okay with people having hunting rifles, but I am nowhere near okay with assault or other weapons designed for slaughter. I really cannot comprehend how people take the spirit of the second amendment to mean the right to own ANY gun. Personally, unless you're living in the wilderness, I also don't understand how a gun is supposed to give you a sense of self protection and I don't feel the need to take up arms as protection from the government. I feel like it's an antiquated notion.I've experienced gun violence first hand in my family and as far as I am concerned, there is no good reason to keep one in the house and I have no plans to take up hunting. That's my personal take.
Many people have mentioned back ground checks as the solution when selling guns. Even if the guns are always sold to mentally stable individuals, which I am not convinced they are, they still make their way into the hands the friends and family members of the owners, people who have not been vetted or trained. In Sandy Hook, the guns belonged to the mother of the shooter and were obtained legally.
Even if the legal owner is deemed stable at the time of purchase, many things can occur to make a person mentally unstable. A relative of my ex-husband had late onset bipolar disorder in his mid-thirties. His life was turned completely upside down and he was suicidal, until he could be diagnosed and properly treated. This is a person who easily would have qualified to own a gun prior to his symptoms. Twice, I've had to remove guns (legally obtained) from elderly family members with memory loss. It's a scary thing. Mental stability is not a constant.
Sandy Hook has now been catagorized as the worst incident of gun violence in an American school. We have put it into key words to break it down, to make sense of it and to try to figure out the cause so that it might be fixed. Unfortunately, the solution is often not as easy, as there are many issues at hand, guns being just part of the problem. As we can see from the Bath murders, guns are not necessary to wreck havoc, in modern times, they just make it easier. Just as we like to put things into neat boxes, we like to place ourselves in categories that create our identity, these categories are often political or ideological in nature. Pro or Anti gun. You pick your side, so people know where you stand.
Although these sides, categories and boxes make sense from a human stand point, from an identity creating stand point, they also serve to build barriers. They make progress difficult, as people stand firm behind their walls. Sometimes these walls are core value beliefs and sometimes they are just stubborn walls.
We like to take issue with one thing that we stand against, rather than admit that the real problem is usually multifaceted. In this case, I have heard mental illness get mentioned several times, but the dialogue is a whisper, where the gun issue is a scream. We don't talk about how the two might be woven together.
We like problems that we can easily define. We decide to make snap judgements, because it's easy and it quickly gives us a target for our anger. It's easy to label guns or mental instability as the problem, but identifying the problem does nothing, if we don't work on a solution. Our real hang up isn't guns or mental instability, it's the inability to have meaningful dialogue that is driven towards real solutions to serious problems. Our real problem is all of this circular rhetoric.