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Sunday, October 11, 2015

It's You. It's Me. It's Us.

Here's the deal. This is just my opinion, so take it all, or some, or none of it, as you see fit.

With every passing month, we hear of another shooting, another mass killing or another way for people to hurt each other. Although these things happen around the world, (albeit with an alarming frequency here in the U.S.), I'll direct my thoughts to us here in the United States.

People wring their hands over every mass shooting, and with good reason. A tragedy is never easy to suffer. But, if it's a white guy as the shooter, (and it's usually a white guy), our media trots out the "mental health" discussion, so we don't have to take responsibility for anything. The problem becomes one so much larger than ourselves, there's just no way we can tackle it on a personal level. So, we cluck our tongues and shake our heads and bemoan "those people" who haven't fixed the problem yet. Liberals call for more gun legislation, conservatives wrap themselves in their version of the 2nd amendment, (the one without the words, "...a well-regulated militia"), we flex and cry, buy more pro- and anti-Obama bumper stickers and nothing changes. Nothing. Fingers point across the great ideological divide as we wait for a Kardashian to do or say something entertaining to take our minds off of the horrors we have wrought.

That's right, I said "we".

How long did we think that FOX News, MSNBC, et al. could exist before stuff like this would happen? How long did we think we could lionize one side and demonize the other before this kind of thing would become commonplace? How long could this polarization go on before various groups or subsets of society became identified as "the problem"? Could it be we didn't realize that this infighting between Americans would be offering a righteous freedom fighter the perfect way to justify his ideological rage? How long could we continue to allow each side to point fingers at the other before it became all too common for those among us, so inclined, to try and fix the problem?
And, how long will we tolerate our media twisting this stuff up to terrify us into staying home and buying more of the stuff their advertisers sell?

Apparently, too long. Apparently, this hasn't happened enough yet. More kids, more adults, more Americans have to be shot and killed before the rest of us realize that we, each and every one of us, are at fault. Sure, the crazy people are crazy. Sure, the people who are not just like us are not just like us. They have different music, different manners, and oh... how dare they... different gods! But, They. Are. Americans. And, so are their targets. Targets of all races, creeds, colors and genders. Americans.

Try this. The next time a mass shooting happens, (just wait, there'll be another soon), read the media accounts. Anytime you see the word "shooter" or "gunman", replace it with the word "American". Then, anytime you see the word "victim" or "victims", replace them with "American" or "Americans". That way, the reports will say something like, "A lone American shot and killed 12 Americans today...".

Because that's what happens. Every. Single. Time. Try that, and then see if you are not absolutely outraged every time you read these things and they don't write it that way. If you really want to get riled up, replace the word, "American" with the word, "human".

We need to stop identifying others as conservatives or liberals or evangelicals or atheists. These are thoughts and feelings, not the sum total of who we are! These are the tools of political operatives, used to drive wedges between us, and we are all too quick to let them do it. We need to start seeing each other as people, not just opinions and ideologies and focus groups. We need to stop allowing our media to package the news for conservatives or liberals. We need to be informed as people. As Americans.

Yes, we'll still parse the information through our own filters but, we can handle that. We need to remember that being smart is good. Being a bigot is bad. Breaking the law doesn't become good because you don't like who is the president. And, it doesn't become okay because you are the president.

But, above all else, we need to stop allowing ourselves to be divided into groups. This is what provides those "freedom fighters" with the moral justification they need to "fix" what they see as wrong. It comes from us. They are us. We have allowed this.

There aren't two Americas. There's just the one. We have people from all over the world here. Duh. That's the whole point of America! Didn't you see the sign on the way in? They aren't all good, but, they aren't all bad, either. The good ones outnumber the bad by a huge margin, regardless of how they feel about trade deficits or climate change.

As long as we allow the media and our leaders to divide us, we will continue to fear the bad guys among us. As long as we fear that we can't count on the person next to us unless they look, act, speak and believe just like us, we will be at their mercy. As long as we remain group A vs. group B,  instead of Americans vs. crazy people trying to hurt our fellow citizens, we will continue to wring our hands, watch the pendulum swing and count the bodies.

We allowed it to get to this point. We are responsible for bringing it back from the edge.