Please, Not Again

A terrible thing happened yesterday and many people are now dead because of it, including a horrifically large group of children. This is heartbreakingly awful and my thoughts are with the parents, the siblings, the families, the teachers and the survivors, because the stain of this dark day will be on the Newtown community for years to come.

I’m not going to get into any specific advocacy or politics here, it’s not why most people read me and it’s also not as if I’m an American, but, as an outsider, I am so saddened by the frequency of these events. I commented on my Facebook that the challenge here was not about which specific law or cultural aspect to manipulate, the key challenge was “how do we stop this from happening again”?

Some of you may find the following upsetting, because I’m going to talk about some things that upset me in an attempt to find a solid and lasting call to action. Please feel free to stop reading now.

There are twenty cupboards across Newtown that hold gifts, for one celebration or another, that are going to gather dust until the parents can steel themselves to bring down those cheery, carefully wrapped, thoughtfully selected gifts and sit there, staring at them, until they work out what the hell to do with them. Some of those gifts will sit there forever, foil wrapped markers of a life cut too short, too soon.

How do we stop this from happening again?

We will bury the dead and salute the heroes, admiring their bravery and, as an educational community, we will look at those teachers who stood before their classes and probably cry as we think that it could have been us. The final act of in loco parentis because the parent isn’t there to shield – and yet, to have bravery, we must have an event that is awful or unpleasant, so every act of bravery tells us that something bad is happening. Why are we so good at praising and ennobling our brave dead, and so bad at taking away the need for bravery?

How do we stop this from happening again?

The arguments have already started about what could have been done, in terms of specifics, but we have seen these arguments before and fact quickly surrenders to factional interest and grand standing, where time is wasted but little is achieved. Our children, your children, my students, deserve more than this. They deserve a school experience that is educational, exciting, challenging and safe. Safe. Safe. Safe. Safe. The expectation of an elementary school kid is that school is out soon and most families will get together and then next year I might be moving up and, hey, did Gracie just take my Oreo? The expectation is that tomorrow will come and that is as it should be.

How do we stop this from happening again?

I can drive safely my entire life and be killed by a truck driver running a red light because that’s how physics works. That’s why my compact, fuel efficient, city driving car has a highly rated safety shell and six airbags. I am preparing for the day that some accident occurs because I want my family to be safe. I am preparing for the day when someone, through thoughtlessness, accident or random malignity, tries to put their car through mine, because nothing I can do at that point will make much of a difference when that much metal and energy are involved. I don’t know how to do this with schools. I don’t know how to do this with Universities.

How do we stop this from happening again?

I am hollow, right now, and this is going to drain me for some time to come. I am trying to change a lot of things and I joke about taking on impossible projects because any progress is glorious defiance. Despite what many people think, I still sincerely believe that there has to be some common ground between arguing groups because nobody wants to see this happen again. I am, however, not an American so I have no business getting involved in US politics but, of course, such nightmares are not restricted to the US. As a global community, we appear to entering a time where Amok is becoming a semi-legitimatised, certainly well-publicised and semi-glorified, response to frustration and pressure. Amok is the killing of other people that you encounter in a frenzied attack that belies an otherwise calm demeanour with no history of violence. This was a Malay phenomenon as originally discussed, as a cultural tradition in reaction to loss of face, wealth, family – people reaching a point where this kind of insanity, often an indirect form of suicide, becomes honourable.

This phenomenon, recorded as early as the 18th Century, shows us how complex this all is and how important our societal and cultural structures can be. We have much better tools for enhancing the carnage of amok now, and I am not a fan of those tools, but we cannot focus just on these; we have to accept that we need to change the will as well as the way. I don’t how to start, but I’m hoping that one of you may do. So I leave you with the question that transcends politics, gun rights, educational systems and country boundaries.

How do we stop this from happening again?



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