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Holding the paradox

With so much horrific news over the past couple of weeks and the steady gray drizzle outside my window, I’ve been struggling to make sense of what is going on around me. I feel torn between the desire for healing and unity, and the anger and sorrow for our community and country.

The gun control debate has flared up on the local and national scene with what seems to be ever more frequent occurrences of tragic gun violence. In our small community, two police officers were tragically killed in the line of duty. Just days later a 19 year old walked into a high school in Florida and shot 17 students and teachers. This week, a nearby high school was put on lockdown.

When these tragedies occur, we immediately draw dividing lines between these pervasive issues in our society. We retreat to our ideological bunkers, casting our positions back and forth from behind the screen. After the shooting in Florida, I spent a lot of time reading different articles attempting to offer the solution: it was all about gun control, or mental health, video games and movies, the deterioration of parenting, or a failing education system. But, almost none addressed the depth and nuance required to actually solve these types of problems.

It is certainly easier to assign blame than wrestle with the messiness. It requires a different level of engagement and investment that I fear we are unwilling to make anymore. In improv, they use the "yes, and" process to perform, building upon each other to create something greater than any individual. It is in holding the paradox that we find our human connection, get to the root of the issues, and evolve as a society.

Admittedly, I am not a gun person. I did not grow up around guns, and I am not comfortable sending my kids to a home where guns are not locked up responsibly. But, being outraged that a 19 year old can legally get access to an assault weapon does not mean we should take everyone’s guns away. Yes, we need to stop the gun show loophole and make it illegal to own an assault weapon or bump stock. And, that will not solve the problem completely.

Yes, we have to talk about the stigma and lack of support for mental health, and we should ensure that people who have serious mental illnesses are not able to buy guns.

Yes, we need to take a look at how we parent our children in this new age. And, parents are struggling to make ends meet and are dealing with complex issues that are easier to solve when you have money or a support network, or privilege. Yes, we can advocate for women and girls seeking gender equality, and still lift up our boys, raise them with the capacity to express emotions without ridicule, and stop making excuses that “boys will be boys” when the behavior is aggressive or hurtful.

As we drove through our town covered in blue ribbons to honor the lives of the fallen police officers, my son shared his confusion about a derogatory comment he heard on the bus about police officers. The child was clearly parroting something he had heard at home. It broke my heart and reminded me how important our words and example are. I also was saddened to see a number of comments that turned this tragedy into a racial issue, belittling the black lives matter movement.

These are my moments of truth as a parent: when I want to shield my children from the pain and brokenness of the world and avoid these hard conversations. I have to remind myself each time that it is not my job to shelter them from the world, but to equip them to be positive, strong leaders within it. So, we talked about different perspectives and how these problems are not easy to solve. That it is never okay to celebrate the loss of life, diminish another person, or characterize all people in a certain way. Yes, the loss of these two brave servants is devastating for our community. And, we should be equally as outraged and saddened when an unarmed black man or woman is killed in this country. It is possible (and necessary) to sit in both truths equally without being against police or against racial justice.

These dividing lines create the ideological bunkers that keep us safe and secure. But they also disconnect us from our shared humanity and the messiness of life that we are meant to handle. The truth is that the tragedy that occured in my community, and all across this country, is multi-faceted. It requires us to take a hard look at ourselves in the mirror at who we have become. We can no longer sit on the sidelines shouting one-liners to solve complex issues. This is not a singular issue about gun control, or mental health, or racial inequality, or socioeconomic struggles.

In fact, it is about all of them.

We must dig deeper to hold more than one truth at once, be comfortable with not knowing all of the answers, and staying in the conversation long enough to make progress.

"As you discover what strength you can draw from your community in this world from which it stands apart, look outward as well as inward. Build bridges instead of walls."

~Chief Justice Sonia Sotomayor

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