Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Virginia Tech Inspires Change

Yesterday’s tragic shooting at Virginia Tech is profoundly saddening. Thirty-three people lost their lives through seemingly-senseless violence. Families lost beloved children, sisters, and brothers. Friends lost loving friends. The campus lost a sense of trust. Our country, our world is wounded deeper. Dissonance resonates as we try to understand how God, ill fortune, fate, or caprice could launch such a gruesome assault.

Some may feel that understanding is out of our grasp. In today’s Washington Post, for example, a writer says, “We always want there to be an answer, except there never is. We always want there to be a solution, and there is never one of those, either.”

I feel much truth in what the writer says, in light of the brutality. I wonder what possesses a young person with so many prospects for a meaningful life to be so commanded by fear and anger. What accounts for weapons being so readily available and desired? What drew 33 people together in this event and to the attention of the world? What as a society do we want to change to ameliorate our pitfalls? How can we cooperate with one another to achieve our ideals?

As confounding as the Virginia Tech event is, I still believe it’s valuable and necessary to examine all the questions we can think of. Through probing and searching, we can better understand why it happened and what patterns it conforms to. None of the influences in our complex world can remain hidden if we look closely with an open eye.

What I see in the elements of this event:

1. Violence: Our culture is obsessed with violence. We write, sell, buy, listen to, and sing violent songs. We do the same with ubiquitous television shows, movies, and video games that depict people hurting one another. We’re drawn to newspaper and other accounts of violence as it abounds the world over. And we support all the advertisers. At times this saturation makes us inured to violence; at other times it provokes us to engage our own angry and violent behavior. If it’s true, though, that we become what we think about, then why do we allow ourselves to think and breathe so much violence? Why not behave with the idea that peace on Earth and good will is a right of all mankind? By reducing our exposure to the energy of violence, we make a change in the energy of us.

2. Disease and Ill Health: As a nation we have one of the highest disease rates and health care costs of any country. Why? Are we eating real food anymore? Are we nourishing or abusing our bodies and minds with chemical compounds that we can barely pronounce in foods as simple as bread and butter? Are we pharmaceutical-happy? Does our medical establishment care more about detection and treatment than prevention and cure? If we learn more about the importance of pure water, clean air, and whole food, and release our dependence on substances foreign to Earth and to our physical bodies, then we can restore much of our health, our well being, and our overall ability to think clearly and in positive ways. Our behavior will always be tied to our thinking, and our thinking will always be dependent on a nervous system that ideally functions optimally.

3. "Rescue Me" Mentality: An ancient belief that we still collectively seem to hold still hold is that someone in a better position to help us than we are will make needed changes for us. This may not be a conscious thought, but if we look at society’s behavior, we often see its effects: rampant pollution that maybe someone else will clean; corporate fraud that maybe the public or the government will bail out; ill health that if the insurance company comes to the rescue then the medical establishment will cure. Who have we made responsible for our lives—the FDA, EPA, and USDA? industry executives, religious leaders? What is it we hold most dear—money? sexual image, food, power, big houses, big cars, big guns? If we want to create change in our society, I feel we could make a big impact by taking more responsibility for our own lives, giving new attention to what’s inside our minds and hearts (good will and love), getting more involved in activities that help promote and sustain health and well-being, and de-emphasizing some of the more materialistic aspects of our lives that may not serve us as well as we'd like. Ultimately, if each of us assumes a sense of being equal to and worthy of change, then change will extend deeper in our own rich lives, and we will be all the more rewarded.

What happened yesterday at Virginia Tech is stirring in so many ways. I am deeply sad about it, but I’m also encouraged and excited about the possibilities for change that it illuminates. Violence, fear, anger, destruction are emblems of our culture, elements of who we are as we grow and change. But they are also the flip side of peace, love, respect, and creation, which are all parts of us, too.

If we focus on the latter, we can transform the former, and be a shining light for all to see, an inspiration that begins at home.

NOTE: "States with higher levels of gun ownership consistently have higher levels of suicide, and that is not because of differences in poverty, unemployment, drug addiction or mental illness," according to a study led by Matthew Miller at the Harvard School of Public Health, published in The Journal of Trauma. More than 30,000 people committed suicide in 2004, Miller and his colleagues noted in the study; guns were used in more than half of those cases. -- (Shankar Vedantam, The Washington Post, April 16, 2007, published the morning of the shootings before they took place)

(Photo: Siler City, North Carolina)