Do you have a minute? Do you mind if I vent for a few? Because I’m about up to here and I need to work through my anger, plant my feet firmly on the ground, and empower myself to move forward. May I unload? Thanks for listening.
I Am Overwhelmed with Fury
I’ve been blogging for roughly four months now. By conventional standards, not a very long time at all. And you know what really infuriates me? That this short time period has been punctuated by so many school shootings in the United States that I’ve completely lost count.
The first shooting I wrote about was this one. And then there was Parkland, which also inspired me to write about how to discuss difficult topics in our communities. But aside from these two, I only remember one other with any degree of clarity. The remaining shootings are all one massive, menacing cloud of tragic confusion.
Shootings, in general, should be a rare tragedy. School shootings, in particular, should happen so rarely that we can recall the details of each one with relative clarity. Like Sandy Hook. I remember many names and can recall who died and how. When I close my eyes, I can see all those angelic faces and the grief-stricken faces of their parents. I remember the date and time and clearly recall the weather and how the bright sunshine and fair skies felt so out of place that day. I remember details. So how did we get to a place where shootings happen with such regularity that they’ve become a static-y blur?
Here’s how. According to CNN, in the first twenty weeks of 2018, we’ve averaged one school shooting every week. Alongside these shootings we’re watching the humanitarian situations in Gaza, Yemen, Syria and other nations fall deeper into a seemingly bottomless pit, hearing constant news of oceans holding more plastic than fish and rising at alarming levels, seeing nationalism and racial tensions swell to monumental levels, and witnessing corruption run rampant in institutions we hold dear. This is how we lose track. It’s all just too much for the average person to fully understand and process. Many of us are way past our saturation points.
I Know I’m Not Alone
Since Parkland, we’ve watched as thousands of kids of all ages empower themselves as they planned and participated in student-led walk-outs. All across the United States students organized and worked together with intention of saying in one unified, deafening voice, “we’re terrified and this isn’t okay; we need change now.” Hundreds of thousands marched in solidarity with them in cities around the world. Despite all this, nothing changes.
Some politicians spout their empty “thoughts and prayers” while others call for gun reform. Some of them marched, too. But nothing changes.
Over and over, we gasp, cry, scream, “Enough!” but somehow it never is. We chant, “Never again!” and passionately demand that this shooting be the last, but we know it won’t be. Because nothing changes.
And time marches on, and more shootings occur. More dead bodies, more limitless potential lost, more mothers and fathers who will never again laugh with their child, tell them that they love them or hug them tight. More shattered lives, broken hearts, and questions that can never be answered. Not really. And still, nothing changes.
It happens, we get fired up, we sustain the focused energy and our sense of determination for a few days or maybe even weeks…and then another crisis distracts us from our mission to make our schools safe. Until it happens again.
I am as guilty of this as the next person.
After Parkland, I shared a few well-meaning, knee-jerk social media posts about gun control and helping at-risk kids. They were my attempts to anchor to something that felt proactive and empowered. But as I watched countless dialogues unfold discussing literally hundreds, perhaps thousands, of nuanced perspectives on the root cause of all of this madness, I saw something that troubled me.
Most people acknowledged and agreed that there was a problem that needed to be addressed and that the safety of our children needed to be a top priority for us going forward. But that is all we agreed on.
I watched hundreds of interactions play out via social and news media. And in the vast majority of those interactions, there was a whole lot of talking and virtually no listening. People showed up to defend their perspective and weren’t interested in new information or working toward any kind of compromise. Many had valid ideas and experiences to share, but they weren’t being heard. We were all talking at and over each other (often without any compassion, respect or basic consideration, I might add) and going absolutely nowhere. We cared, but not enough to humble ourselves and listen.
I watched and listened in silence, soaking up as many of the ideas as possible, whether I agreed with them or not. And then in an effort to empower myself through giving “voice” to all I’d seen and heard, I mapped them out. And as it turns out, “complicated” is a massive understatement.
Assuming that each of the ideas captured here holds some level of validity, then the root causes of mass shootings run so deep and are so multi-faceted that it’s enough to completely stop most of us in our tracks. It’s stunningly complex. That’s the bad news (as if we needed more).
The Good News
But here’s the good news. In this perplexing web of plausible explanations are dozens of things over which you can exercise some influence and even control.
In some cases, you will only be able to alter your own thoughts and behaviors. That’s okay. Every small shift in the right direction matters, and by setting an example you may empower and inspire others to follow your lead. For instance, you can take a look at how “American Individualism” manifests in your life and seek to get informed and correct misguided beliefs. You can study “Emotional Intelligence” to expand your knowledge and awareness. Develop an awareness of your beliefs around highly stigmatized topics and work both to minimize your contribution to stigma, and to remove or reduce it on behalf of those who suffer. Please don’t underestimate the impact of working on yourself; the ripple effects can be tremendous.
In other cases, you might be able to expand your circle of influence to include your family, friends and even your community. And though certainly more difficult, it’s of utmost importance that we all work to expand our influence, seeking to effect changes at state, federal and even global levels. You have a voice. You (I hope) have a vote. They are invaluable. Find a way to use them.
We lose hope and inspiration when we feel completely disempowered. And there are a lot of justified reasons for feeling disempowered right now. So it’s urgently important that we proactively seek to empower ourselves and our communities. But how?
A great place to begin is to get informed. We all know the saying, “knowledge is power” and it holds a great deal of truth. Learn about some of the topics that appear on the map above. Expanding your knowledge and awareness will likely make you feel some level of discomfort (from mild to extreme, depending on your current understanding of the state of things) but it will ultimately empower you tremendously. Being mentally prepared for that and practicing good self-care along the way will help you push through it. I promise you, it will be worth it.
Get connected with networks of people who are active “helpers” in your community. It doesn’t matter so much whether you volunteer, get involved in local politics, or make donations to causes you care about. Just connect with do-ers and people who care as passionately as you do.
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ – Fred Rogers
You will find that the people in these networks take turns getting tired and discouraged and lifting each other up. If we’re feeling down, there’s always someone to elevate us. When we’ve done something great, there’s always someone to celebrate with. If we need to take a rest, someone will gently suggest that we do so. And if we’re not pulling our weight, someone will – directly or indirectly – remind us to step it up. When we’ve lost our spark, there’s always someone to light it back up.
This morning I woke up feeling anger, overwhelm, and disempowerment in every fiber of my being. By noon, I felt empowered and ready to get to work. Why? My network. Debra said she was looking for contributions to help an immigrant named Nelson build a small garden in the church where he is seeking sanctuary from ICE. The opportunity to pitch in shifted my energy and lifted my spirit. Shortly after, Amanda indicated that she was participating in a project to fill backpacks with summer fun and learning activities for some local children whose families are struggling. Another opportunity to help! Far more important than the opportunities provided to me though are the examples these women provide of love, dedication, and indomitable spirit. They delivered all the inspiration my poor heart needed.
Surround yourself – physically or virtually – with helpers, and remember to be one for them, too.
Own Your Feelings
That little “emotional intelligence” bubble on the map up there? It’s impossible to overestimate its importance. Recognize and honor your feelings. Give them a voice. Figure out how to briefly sit with them and move through them. Resisting them can backfire and invite all sorts of problems into your life. Own them.
People are going to let you down on this journey and sometimes you’ll let yourself down, too. Get good at forgiving and letting go. To deny forgiveness is to carry a great weight, to drive division, and to make your own journey so much harder. To forgive is to empower yourself to move forward free of the weight of your grievance so that you can focus all of your energy on what you want.
Know your “why”. Why do you want to create a better world? Why is it worth working for the wellbeing of others? Specifically, what is it about your cause that speaks to you very deeply? What lights you up inside and inspires you to strive for the greater good?
Sit down and write out your answers to these questions in detail. Use language that inspires and empowers YOU. Read your “why” when you need to double down on your commitment and propel yourself forward. Create your own inspiration to empower yourself. Your networks can help keep you inspired, but the best and most lasting inspiration comes from your own spirit.
Be in It for the Long Haul
Change-making is a long-distance proposition. It takes many people working together over long periods of time to bring about lasting and meaningful change. History tells us that though it has never been easy, it can be profoundly rewarding. An authentically empowered change champion knows this and paces her or himself for a long distance event. Resist the urge to sprint.
Know, too, that as we journey forward more tragedies will likely strike. As the Tibetan saying above says, we must use these tragedies “as a source of strength.” Sometimes they will make you want to stop. Don’t. Transform your pain into fuel to thrust you forward.
YOU Inspire & Empower Me
One of the biggest reasons I created Awakening Authenticity, was that I felt that the world needed more love and truth, and wanted to offer myself as a vehicle for expressing that. Every time I sit down at the keyboard and begin typing, it is an act of love and hope, and an attempt to refine and express my best understanding of truth. It is me trying to send love out into the world and to lift up and empower my readers and everyone they come in contact with in some small way. Awakening Authenticity is my mission and a manifestation of my commitment to creating a more loving world.
And you, my reader-friend, are part of both Awakening Authenticity AND one of my most valued networks. Without you, Awakening Authenticity wouldn’t be anything more than a journal. Thank you for being here, for reading, sharing, commenting, and propelling me forward. You inspire me to keep showing up and empower me to reach higher and stretch further. I hope you find something of value here for you too, each and every time you visit.`
Peace and blessings,