Saturday morning should have emerged as a typical early August day full of back-to-school shopping and grocery runs in El Paso, Texas and summer night dining and gatherings in Dayton, Ohio. Instead, both cities became crime scenes of horror, hate, carnage and death.
In the awful wake of such tragedies yesterday, Americans once again demonstrated how to quickly come together for a moment of unity and mourning. Outreach and support were immediate. Blood donors and monetary donations began pouring in.
Undoubtedly, America has become very good at moments. But it seems to be less successful at fostering sustainable movements that create lasting change.
Moments are easy to engage in; a seismic event occurs and people react with heartfelt emotion. Sadly, we see more inclination to react with an equal measure of anger and contempt. Pointing fingers and placing blame becomes the acceptable response.
Then, inevitably, the moment passes. The people of the nation move on with their busy lives, much like a rapidly moving driver on a slick highway who comes upon an accident. For a moment everything changes — the driver slows down and proceeds with caution for a few miles. Then, as the accident fades in the rearview mirror, the driver returns to full speed and the journey ahead.
The country's list of tragic moments grows: Schools like Columbine, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech and Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Places of worship in Ohio, South Carolina and Texas. A nightclub in Florida. A concert in Nevada. Shopping centers in El Paso. A restaurant and bar in Dayton. These are just some on the lengthening list of tragic places haunted by tragic moments.
America has failed to transform these moments into movements.
Sustainable movements require difficult conversations and deeper thinking. For movements to take hold, politics must be tempered and set aside, opportunistic partisan fundraising must stop. Above all, principles have to drive the discussions and the solutions.
For movements to take hold, politics must be tempered and set aside, opportunistic partisan fundraising must stop. Above all, principles have to drive the discussions and the solutions.
Will citizens passively listen to lawmakers in Washington who shrug their shoulders and say, “The country is just too divided to deal with these issues”? This argument only gives politicians an excuse to do nothing.
Instead, citizens must square their shoulders and engage in a full-on, deep-dive, civil discussion about gun laws, gun safety, background checks, mental health, school security, law enforcement and coordination between agencies.
But it shouldn't stop there. With shoulders squared, hearts softened and minds open, we need elevated conversations about the breakdown of families, fatherless-ness in America, a culture that doesn't value life, social media that breeds contempt, violent video games, Hollywood’s promotion of gun violence, online bullying, teen anxiety and depression.
Focusing on all the factors driving violence, hate and mass shootings can prevent a knee-jerk reaction of having government work to control behavior. Simply talking about outward behavior — the easier component to measure — often keeps citizens and communities distant from the enlightening, empowering element of principles and values.
Where there is a void in values, laws and legislation will not deter bad behavior. Where values are prioritized, laws and legislation can lend strength, certainty and security.
If the energy and emotion of a powerful or poignant moment is not directed forward, driven by principles and values, it will devolve into chaotic motion, or even commotion. Emotion propels activity — but activity alone, without direction and forward movement, only ends in more anger, frustration, division and political posturing.
We best honor those who have been murdered and those injured, those who will deal with emotional scars and personal loss for the rest of their days, those who ran into harm’s way — by lifting those around us, elevating critical conversations and moving the country forward.
We are once again in an American moment. We should transform it into an American movement.