If there is one thing that is true about the entire world right now, and particularly the United States, it's that we are in a state of grief. Every last one of us. Sometimes, though, in our need to understand and make things okay, we forget that people grieve in different ways. I have been thinking about this a lot this weekend in relation to accusations of "politicizing" towards those who can't stop thinking about gun control (of which, in full disclosure, I am one). What nags in my heart about this isn't just the obvious pro-gun folks who disagree with the ideas, but the notion from others that this is the wrong thing to do at this time. What I feel is missing from this conversation, though, is that "politicizing" is in fact a work of grief in itself. It's not ignoring the tragedy at hand; it's one way of dealing with it.
For some people when these things happen, all they can do is wrap their arms around their knees, or curl up in bed, and sob. (I am often one of these people.) For some people, they get angry. They want action; they want to do everything they can to make things better--right. now. And neither--I repeat, neither--are wrong. And both are wrapped in grief. Both can't stop thinking about it. Both can't truly comprehend what has happened, and are filled with horror everywhere in their insides. Thinking otherwise also reinforces a common belief in our society that rage is shameful, that anger often lacks intelligence and compassion, that simply wanting to hold hands and talk is better. Yet people who are angry often want to hold hands and talk, too. Our anger, and our desire to turn that anger into action, does not make us bad people. If all that I've done for the past two days is post articles about gun control all over the internet, and all you can do is wallow in ache and not think about anything else at all other than the people in that one town and the children in that one elementary school and can't bring yourself to say much of anything at all about anything, neither of us are doing anything wrong, and rest assured that both of us are very, very sad.
(Maybe this seems like common sense and not something I should necessarily have to point out, but on Friday I had the pleasure of witnessing people on Twitter calling anyone who mentioned gun control at a time like this "human garbage," and that people who are pro-choice and support the "death of babies every day" didn't have a "right" to feel sadness over such a tragedy, etc., etc., all of which I felt was, you know, going against what our common goals should be at "a time like this.")
I've also heard, in another line of thinking, something I frequently hear when the entire nation is plagued by attention to one single tragedy: that while this event is awful, people get shot across America every day. Children were slashed in China, too, on the same exact day. Innocent kids and civilians are killed by our very own drones across the Middle East all the time, and no one talks about that.
These things are all true. Attention should be paid to all of those things, as well. Yet that does not make the overwhelming feeling of grief about this one event "wrong." Nothing about this grief is wrong. Every single tragedy is worthy of being mourned, and it is also only natural to feel more strongly about stories that seem to hit closer to home. It makes sense to feel more rocked by something that happens in our neighborhood than something that happens in Pakistan. It is not right, necessarily, but it is logical, and human, and we can't beat ourselves up over it. Our capacity for empathy and grief can only reach a certain limit before we all go insane. If I could ask my ultra-left-wing friends one thing, it would be to please, please, please stop pitting one tragedy against another, like one is more "worthy" than another of our attention, that one grief is "better" than another. Doing so only increases the feeling of living in a divided world full of antipathy. No one purposely ignores other things that are bad in the world, but we can only do what we can and what we know about. If someone needs to feel sad about something, do not take that right away from them. And just because everyone else in the country seems to be feeling sad about the same thing does not diminish the reality of every individual's sadness.
And when it comes to politics, I wish I could give a gentle reminder to the entire country that politics does not have to be a dirty word. It often becomes one, yes, but it doesn't have to equal greed or callousness. While a completely different topic, all the desires to "not be political" during this time evoked the same emotions I felt when my Facebook wall became a storm of people complaining about "everyone talking about politics" during this year's election. The comment that burned me the most was the comment that it "didn't matter" which candidate won in the end anyway. There are people who this statement is in fact true for: white, middle class, straight people. But it DID matter to me who won, because one could pave the way for my equality in society, and the other would veto any attempt to grant me my full rights as a citizen. I talked about politics a lot (and still do) because politics MATTER to me; they very literally affect my life. And I care about them even when they don't affect my life, because they affect SOMEONE'S. They're not there just to create a lot of paperwork and bureaucracy, or to raise taxes, although they frequently do all of those. At the heart of things, politics are meant to make the world better. And the belief that politics in that sense can still exist is essential to our country not collapsing in on itself. So if politics can decrease the probability of this happening again, even by, like, 10%? Then hell yes, I am going to be political.
On that "But there will always be evil" argument.
I believe in gun control for a number of reasons, most of which are supported by hard facts and logic and stuff. But the argument against it that gets me the most riled up is this "but there will always be crazy people" idea. That even if we didn't have guns, there would be wackos who made bombs, who took up knives, who would create something destructive and harmful and hurt people. The really damning thing about this argument is that those who believe it steadfastly hardly ever follow it up with ideas about better mental health care; it is more a "that's just the way it is" type of sentiment.
The first thing that has to change about this is the notion that the world is full of "crazy people" and "wackos" instead of "severely mentally ill individuals who lack efficient care" or "people who have experienced unknowable trauma" or "mis-medicated people who are not acting from their own mind but by artificial chemicals and hormones that have taken over their body." Etc., etc.
But the second thing is: really? This is your argument? That "Oh well, the world is full of shit, so, guess we can't do anything"? Is your belief in humankind really that low? Because that makes me saddest of all. What's the point of living at all, then? Of doing anything? Of ever trying to make anything better? Because there are countries in the world where these types of things don't happen, so does that mean that Americans are just made of nastier stuff than everyone else? There are no countries in the world that are perfect, no. But there are countries that are trying really hard to get it right, and being at least semi-successful. I know because I read about them in the paper, in my magazines. Why don't we want to try really hard to get it right? Why don't we want to be at least semi-successful? What if we were brave enough to believe that this WASN'T something that was "eh, just going to happen again, no matter what we do"? Because maybe it's just me, but the idea of Newtown being something that we should just get used to happening because "you can't change people," well, that seems like a pretty fucking awful future and I don't know if I want to live in that world. But I don't think we do live in that world.
So stop, just stop, saying that we can't help people get better mental health care, that we can't change the world from being evil. The world is not evil. I am not a completely naive optimist (though I know I probably seem that way to some); when I read about civil wars ravaging Africa and Syria and child soldiers and the drug wars in Mexico and the way people slaughter one another in different areas of the world, the word "evil" does sometimes come into my mind, and I wonder how such a world could even exist. But after my gut reaction, I know that "evil" is still a trick of rhetoric taught to us by religion and the media; that there is a reason behind every single one of those conflicts, a way that all those things begun and became what they are. The only way the world will become evil is when every single person living on it believes it is evil, that there is no longer any reason to love one another or find things that make us happy or to try to make things better for each other.
So stop using defeatism as your logic and your defense against the ones who want to make things better. It is faulty, and in the end, the people who want to make things better will win.