By Marc Peters
National tragedies are always harrowing experiences for our country. The grief is amplified when we can truly relate to those who lost their lives. In the case of the murders in Aurora, Colorado, many of the victims were just entering adulthood and only beginning to chase dreams that will now go unrealized. After shootings such as this one, our country’s politicians can’t help but launch directly into a debate about gun control (and I have pretty strong feelings in that debate). However, there is a debate that we glaze over or ignore and that is the violence that is embedded in our culture particularly when it comes to men.
From a very young age men are conditioned to think that when you are hit your only recourse is to hit back, lest you be called a fag or a pussy or have your manhood questioned in some other way, shape or form. We are taught that aggression is a perfectly reasonable and manly response to emotion. Crying is something for girls as is talking through conflict. I’m not saying that this man wouldn’t have shot up the movie theater had he been more emotionally mature, lord knows what had to snap for someone to commit such an egregious crime and affront to humanity. What I am saying is that we need to move away from the violent culture that has so long dominated our lives and been the undercurrent that has led to countless fights, rapes, shootings, and lives forever altered or lost.
Dr. King was not lying when he preached non-violence and warned that violence begets violence and hate begets hate. Yet, we hate blindly hate each other based on political beliefs. We blindly hate each other based on sexual orientation. We blindly hate each other based on race. We exert domination on the basis of gender. It truly has to stop. My political hero is Robert F. Kennedy and when Dr. King was assassinated, he said:
“What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country…”
We have a severe lack of compassion in our country today. While technology has erased the physical distance between us, it has only served to expand the chasm that exists when it comes to emotional distance. Knowing about your trip to the mall or what song you are listening to on Spotify is no substitute for coming to know each other’s humanity. For if we truly see ourselves in the other, then how could we kill? If we truly see ourselves in the other than how could we rape? If we truly see ourselves in the other, how could we inflict the emotional trauma of bullying or the physical trauma of domestic violence.
We can debate all we want about when is the right time to talk about guns. We can debate all we want about personal freedom. But NOW is the time to begin a thoughtful conversation about the epidemic of violence in our culture. In fact the time to begin has long passed, but it is never too late to do better. Let us start anew today and move forward together, more connected, more whole, and more open to inspecting the problems we face as individuals and as a national community. That is how we can honor the memory of those lost in Aurora.