Since the Sandy Hook shootings blame has been passed around like a hot potato. Some of the more extreme elements of the religious right have blamed the absence of God in our public schools. I won’t address the various problems with that assertion here, I have elsewhere. Others have blamed the ready availability of guns, a not all together illogical conclusion. Some others, mostly those that would defend their right to bear arms, have turned the conversation into a discussion over violence in movies, TV and video games. This is also not entirely without merit, though on that issue I would like to paraphrase the creators of Penny Arcade: “it is a strange patriot that would sacrifice the first amendment to preserve the second.”
We focus so much on what we need to remove from society (guns, video games, pornography, etc) that we forget about what we might need to add to it: love. I am not talking about divine love here, I don’t want a discussion on the need for religion. We ignore our need to love each other. Simple, compassionate language is removed from our culture until a tragedy requires us to rediscover it. Anger, fear, sorrow, these all come easily to us. We shake our fists at drivers who cut us off, we roll our eyes at the old woman struggling with her coupons at the supermarket, and yes we watch violent TV.
How many of us, though, wave a thank you to the driver who lets us out of the parking lot? How often do we choose to engage in media with a positive message? We grunt a perfunctory “thank you” to someone who holds the door for us instead of returning the act of kindness with a smile. Where is the love?
We say we want a better world, but how many of us actually act on it? I am not talking about grand gestures or sacrifices. I am not concerned here about how we can find the best public policies for our community. I am actually talking about simply being kinder to each other. Remembering that we are all on this planet together and ultimately we need each other.
Love is hard, I know. It means making yourself vulnerable and that can be very scary. The rewards, however, are well worth it. An honest smile returned can be all it takes to make your day, or that of a stranger. I don’t take any responsibility from those who have committed these atrocities, but how different might things have turned out if they had felt connected to the rest of us, if they had not felt so alone?
I offer you a challenge, one I am going to take up myself. Try just one day to smile at every person you meet, no matter what they say or do. Don’t force it, feel it. Let yourself love them regardless of your relationship to them. Just one day, and from there, see if you can do it again, and see if maybe, just maybe, your world isn’t made a little better for it. If we can do that for ourselves, I bet we can do that for everyone.