We find ourselves again in the wake of another tragedy, asking ourselves the same question – Why? That “why?” quickly turns to the question of who- or what- is to blame? We as a society banter about the same issues each time – gun control, gun rights, violence in the media, whether it’s a school’s fault or other such institution for missing a red flag. Somehow through all the finger pointing and politics, we end up finding ourselves back in the exact same place each time. Could it be we are looking in the wrong place for answers? Could it be that as a society we need to take a deep look within?
I sat here watching the coverage of the UCSB memorial and the speech of father Richard Martinez, who lost his son in the Isla Vista shooting. Since he first stepped in front of a camera and through his grief, he has made very politically charged statements blaming Congress and blaming gun policy. He did so again in his speech at this memorial and then asked the students to shout “Not One More”. I have heartfelt sympathy for this man, for his family and for their loss. Very few know what it’s like to go through what he is going through right now. There is debate whether his words are open game for political discourse or whether, because of his loss, he is able to share his opinions, no matter how political charged, and it’s “disrespectful” to disagree or reply. This father made a choice to make a statement – one which touts policies which would impact the rights of all Americans – and he chose to step in front of the cameras, a number of times, to make these statements. While I can sympathize with his loss, I can separate that from his political words which raise important issues on an important topic. His comments are fair game for discourse. With that said, sadly, if people follow the path of blame this man is representing, there won’t just be “one more”, there will be many more. Half of the victims in this tragedy were stabbed to death – how does that make it the NRA’s fault or the weapon itself? California has some of the strictest gun laws, yet this tragedy wasn’t prevented – what does that say about where we are focusing our blame?
What I’ve found is, it’s easier for people to quickly blame someone else or something for their troubles, for a tragedy, for any misfortune. A look into our legal system and you see a great representation of that. We’ve become a society where our courts are bogged down with lawsuits in an attempt to blame and to profit over someone’s troubles, whether justified or not.
I’m a young woman. Not as young as those affected in the Isla Vista shooting, but young enough to not be too far removed from those days. I’ve been troubled for a long time by the shift I’ve seen in our society when it comes to values, when it comes to key things like “responsibility”, “accountability”, even “discipline”. I’ve always considered myself an “old soul” who looks back on my grandfather’s generation – known as the “greatest generation” -and look at how Americans were expected to behave, how they were raised and what was expected of them – the bar was set high. It wasn’t a perfect time, but how often did you see young people regularly shooting up schools or communities?
What has changed in our society that these types of tragedies are becoming a regular event? Guns have been around long before these types of tragedies graced the front pages of newspapers regularly. Access to guns was much easier decades and centuries ago – but why not this type of behavior? There is no doubt that there is a mental health component to this – a subject that remains an elephant in the room with politicians and citizens alike – but that existed before too. What has changed? Maybe the answer is more simple than we think. Could it be that our children are losing some very core values and foundation, that mixed in with the troubles of today’s society, the technology, the media, and mental issues, we have seen an explosive result?
We have become a society where rules are to be broken. A look at pop culture and we see where it’s cool to throw away being a “good girl”, like it’s bad thing, and instead become as provocative and as extreme as one can, as if it’s some form of claim to independence or rite of passage. Disciplining our children seems to be “old fashioned” too. Parents are afraid to tap their kid on the butt to learn a lesson because they may be accused of child abuse. Parents want their kids to be who they are and discover who they are, but think that to do that, no real limits or rules should be set, or if there are any, they are negotiable. We have substituted our involvement and interaction in the lives of children by pushing an iPad in their lap to pacify them. Manners are old fashioned ideals that are somehow sexist or confining, instead of a means of learning and showing respect.
We have become a society where we try to insulate our children from failure. The normal parental protectiveness has gone overboard where we don’t want to give out trophies to kids who excel because it might make others feel bad, we don’t want to give a kid an F they earned as it might hurt their feelings. We have taught our kids that they are entitled to things, not that they need to earn them or work towards them. We have villainized those who have “privilege”, many who have worked hard to get there, because we feel we should have the same whether we’ve earned it or not. The mentality can be encapsulated in the Occupy movement.
We look to our government, from local to federal, to pass laws in some attempt to try to secure a safety bubble around us where nothing bad can happen. The government is supposed to do everything for us it seems – from providing a living, to providing insurance, to passing laws to ban guns so we can have some false sense of security that with these tough gun laws, these tragedies will cease to exist. We are entitled. We have forgotten what our country was founded on. We shirk our own responsibility and give it to our government, thinking that this large powerful government will make a perfect society for us and with it we willingly throw away our freedoms. In the famous words of Benjamin Franklin, who lived through a more dangerous time than most of us will ever know, “Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.” – Ben Franklin. All of this comes with a price and a consequence.
But let’s get back to that issue of blame. It seems like it’s almost human nature with how often and where we find it. We have a President who has played the blame game most of his Presidency. If it wasn’t Bush, he was pointing his finger at Republicans for whatever went wrong under his watch. We have a Congress where both sides – Republicans and Democrats alike -spend more time pointing the finger at one another, never taking any responsibility for their own failures towards making progress and change. And with politics in general, if all else fails, spin the issue, twist the numbers or outright lie to make things look okay. Where’s the accountability and responsibility?
We are raising children who are not supposed to fail, who are not supposed to get hurt, who are not supposed to be exposed to any risk, who do not have any consequences, and when things don’t go their way, have we taught our children to take responsibility for their own failures or have we taught them that it’s okay to point the finger, to blame someone else? In our society today, it seems that as long as we have an excuse or someone to blame it makes our actions okay, it justifies our bad behavior. “I had a bad childhood”, “I was abused”, “I’ve had bad experiences with the opposite sex”, “I was bullied as a child”, “I’ve had a hard life”, “I had financial hardships” “I never knew my dad” – all unfortunate events in someone’s life and I feel for anyone who goes through difficult times especially as a child, but does that make it okay and an excuse for continued failure as an adult? Are these valid excuses when a person neglects their own children? Do these reasons get people off the hook when their own problems become problems for others? Today, it seems to give many a “get out of jail free card” or at least a tolerance of a victim mentality that is permeating this country’s discourse. When do we have to stand up, take accountability for our lives and not lean on the excuses to justify why we can’t step up to the plate? A great quote from Dr. Ben Carson – “The person who had the most to do with what happened to you in life was you”.
I’m going to take this even a step further and go where people get really uncomfortable and talk about things like values, faith, God. We are raising our kids in a God-less society, a foundation of faith in various forms, is something to almost be mocked. We have taken this foundation which with it came the teaching of morals and values, and handed it over to mass media to teach to our children these important aspects of character, material things fill a void, and yet we expect that when our children go out into the world, they will not only know right from wrong, but that these things are going to give them the comfort, the hope and the strength to get them through the real world that awaits. There is a problem when our churches sit empty each Sunday and our stadiums/theaters/concert halls are sold out.
Value of life is being lost in the shuffle as well. Unless you are living in the gang-infested streets of the south side of Chicago where murder seems to be a daily event (and another location with “tough” gun control laws) most of us are immune from the loss that many in other parts of the world face or even our ancestors faced in their daily lives here in America. Life is fragile but to those who rarely have to face life or death decisions and instead see people blown apart and gunned down in the media and in video games, it’s easy to blur what is reality and fiction especially when they have not learned values elsewhere. Values that tell them that life is precious and that in life, there is no restart button after the game is over.
So how does this all relate to the tragedies we are seeing in our society, like the one in Isla Vista last week? We are still learning about the young man who carried out this horrific act, but from what we know, he came from a well-to-do family, did not lack for material things but a young man who blamed others for his problems. A young man who did not see any fault in himself or his behavior but blamed others for the problems in his life. Those people who he felt needed to pay for how bad his life was or what he was missing. Because he had a reason or an excuse, does it make what he did okay? Does it somehow justify the situation? I think most would say no. Regardless of his problems, mental issues included, he is accountable for his actions. Yet as I turn on the news, I hear more about gun control and how guns are to blame for the death of 6 innocent people, half of which were stabbed to death. Again, where is the accountability?
Until we as a society, start standing up and taking accountability and responsibility for ourselves first instead of jumping to point the finger, until the day when we do not condone a victim mentality or a sense of entitlement, until the day comes when we get back to a real foundation in our society, until we pass this on to our children, we will continue to breed a society full of narcissism – where our children have been told they are perfect, can never fail and are never supposed to lose. Until our leadership leads by example. Until we stop looking for government to provide a perfect society and accept the world with it’s flaws, struggles and imperfections. Until it’s okay to lean on a little faith and values that is not given to us from Hollywood or pop culture, we will continue to breed a society that is self-centered, has a sense of entitlement, lacks empathy and has a numbness to violence. Mix that with mental illness and you have a deadly combination.
Our problems are deeper than a movie, a video game, a weapon. The problems our country faces will not be solved by stronger gun control laws, or banning the latest video game, it’s nothing the government can guarantee for us, it’s something that we as a nation have to do ourselves. We need to develop a strong foundation for ourselves and for our kids. We need to teach our kids that we have the power to change our own lives and that it is not the job of the government or anyone else to make our lives successful or to make us happy. We need to teach our kids to value more than what we see in pop culture or what the latest trend is at the mall. We need to teach our kids that life is not perfect, sometimes we fail, sometimes we lose, sometimes people don’t like us, sometimes bad things happen. Nothing we can do here in our society can guarantee the next generation to be free of tragedy or hurt. What we can do is prepare our children to cope, to give them the skills to navigate the tough times and the things we cannot control. And we can teach them that we are not perfect and that it’s okay and that reaching out for help is not a weakness when our problems are too much to handle alone.
Now I know that here in what I am writing, I speak in grand generalizations. That is not to take away from those that don’t fit the mold. I have met many people, especially young people, who do not fall into this “stereotype”. There are many parents doing the right thing for their children. There is a lot of good in this country. We see shining examples of people who step up to the plate, who go above and beyond and make this country a better place. We saw that in Isla Vista where young men and women ran to the aid of their friends or complete strangers who were injured or dying. There is a lot of hope in this country, there are manyyoung people who have been taught to not take the easy way out, who have not been afraid to fail, to take responsibility and be accountable for their actions. For those, the mentality that is gripping our society threatens them and the generations to come.
There is a lot we need to do. We do need to address mental health issues in this society,we need to remove the stigma around those who battle such issues in our country, the media needs to be responsible in the content they are putting out there, we need to be responsible in exercising our second amendment rights, all of that goes hand in hand. No bill passed by Congress is going to stop tragedies like we are seeing. No politician, Congress, organization, can solve what ails our country, which goes to it’s very spirit. Agree or Disagree with me, I challenge each of you to ponder the questions and points I’ve presented. That’s why I decided to write this. Not for you to just agree but to open up a different conversation. Unless we are willing to start looking at a bigger picture, we may yell “Not One More” and mean it with all our heart, but in a short time we will again find ourselves asking, Why, Why did this happen again?