America, Our Problem Is Ourselves

Red and whiteIt’s been little more than a week since America’s 355th mass shooting stopped us all cold, sent us all scurrying for our phones, our tablets, our television remotes to watch the horror unfolding in San Bernardino, California.

In a week, our country has become even more divided than it was before gunshots began to ring out in the Inland Regional Center.

The split isn’t merely between those who lobby for gun control and those who staunchly support the right to bear arms. It’s not merely between those who lobby for more secure borders and those encouraging America to continue to welcome the teeming masses, yearning to breathe free. It’s not merely between the Democrats and the Republicans.

It feels, more and more, that we are all divided. Divided by words.

Divided by rhetoric.

Divided by an inability to settle one’s differences with civility and humanity.

As a writer, I’ve never been afraid to use words. They’re the tools of my trade, but more than that, they’re power. They’re representative of that very American right to say what it is you’ve been wanting to say without fear of persecution.

But more and more, I find that words are easily twisted. Make one comment about guns, for example, and quickly you’re branded anti-American, anti-gun, anti-everything the other person stands for … and yes, this goes the other way too. This is not a conservative problem or a liberal problem. It’s an American one.

We’ve become a nation of name callers, epithet throwers, rumormongers. We’ve become a nation of people quick to share Internet memes with no basis in fact because they support our own sense of the truth, the ripple effect of this continuing spread of misinformation be darned.

Was it always this way? Perhaps. But I know it doesn’t have to be this way.

Remember America after 9/11? When we all stood, shoulder to shoulder, brothers and sisters?

Yes, we’re angry. Yes, we’re exhausted. It’s hard not to be.

In the three years since a gunman murdered 20 elementary schoolers and six adults in a Newtown, Connecticut, there have been nearly 150 more school shootings. In 2015, there have been more mass shootings than there have been days of the year. No one, Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, rich or poor wants this to continue.

But in our anger, in our exhaustion, we’re driving away those we need to pull close.

If we’re ever going to stop any of this, if we’re ever going to return our kids and our kids’ kids to a world where mass shootings are not a daily occurrence, where school shootings are unheard of, we need to learn to be nice to one another again. We need to see each other’s similarities and value them. Because we are the same. We are all Americans. And none of us, none of the people with clear hearts, want to see another person gunned down in cold blood, especially not a child.

We can be on the same page. We can listen to one another with respect, even when we vehemently disagree. We can give the other side its time to speak without name-calling or cruelty. Can’t we?


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