Not Speechless

The shooting in Newtown, Connecticut that has claimed the lives of 20 children and at least 6 adults leaves us speechless. Truly, there are no words we can utter to truly express the gravity of the hurt we all feel when so many children are taken so quickly and without reason. But we cannot be speechless.

Many on social media are engaging in debate about gun control. This is a debate that needs to occur, because, as President Obama said in his remarks today, we have seen too many of these mass shootings in recent years, and we continue to see too much gun violence on our streets around the nation. The debate today and in the coming months should not just be about gun violence; it needs to be about citizenship and community.

Today’s events send a strong message that we cannot live our lives as individuals divorced from the larger community. We cannot live our lives and not engage in discussions about policy and politics. We cannot live our lives and not work closely with others to improve the lot of all of us. We cannot be speechless in our communities and politics, leaving it to the interest groups and professional lobbyists to sort out the winners and losers across the land.

It is often said in times of tragedy that Americans show their strength and compassion by coming together to help those in need. We help with financial assistance, rebuilding, providing a shoulder to cry on, or a hug for those who are hurting. Is it truly enough for us to show such compassion only during times of tragedy?

I was engaged in a discussion with some friends the other day, and a question was posed:  “Does God give you more than you can handle?” The question referred to financial, relational, career, et cetera challenges or hardships any of us might face at any time. Certainly our neighbors in Connecticut are facing extreme hardship now. My response was, “yes, God does give us as individuals too much to handle, but not too much for us as a community to handle.”

Our choices of how we work together as a community are made through our politics. Do we choose to live as fiercely independent selves, or do we choose to invest in each other, support each other, and help all of us achieve our human potential to live a good life with purpose and meaning? The fiscal cliff debate is about this fundamental question. The gun control debate that we will be having is about this question. Debate on our education policy and programs, mental health programs, urban design programs, health care policies, and so on are about this question.

This might be a bit of a stream of consciousness post, but here’s my point: Don’t be speechless. We might not be able to express words to reveal our gut wrenching emotion in the face of this tragedy, but don’t be speechless. This is about more than gun control. It is about citizenship and community. Every day, as citizens, we need to express our hopes, express our values, express our fears, our concerns, our challenges, our needs. None of us can get by alone for the duration of our lives; we need to know it’s okay to ask for help, and we should expect as humans to help others everyday. Only then can we overcome the burdens that are placed on any one of us as individuals and maybe reduce some of the violence that is taking such a hold of our culture and people. And maybe then we can reclaim our politics and reduce some of the cynicism that prevents us from working together as one.

Published by Prof. dr. Thomas Bryer

Dr. Thomas Bryer is professor in the School of Public Administration at the University of Central Florida, Fulbright Scholar and Specialist, Professor at Kaunas University of Technology (Lithuania) and Visiting Professor Edge Hill University (United Kingdom).

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