On March 15th of this year, the country of New Zealand experienced an event that we here in the United States are sadly all too familiar with, a mass shooting.
I work for a small nonprofit in Portland, Oregon. Our staff meets weekly to discuss projects and regular work business. Recently, the topic of ways of improving moral was introduced to the group. This topic produced several odd stares and strange facial expressions. Here’s a bit of background about my office. It is filled with some of the most amazing and diverse colleagues where you often hear gut-busting laughter erupting throughout the day. Hearing this expression of relief is often a blessing when I am rigidly fixated on assembling the pieces for upcoming events. Honestly, sometimes it’s hard to smile!
But this shooting, though having occurred more than halfway around the world from the somewhat safe “bubble” here in Portland, sent a violent shockwave through an already troubled continuum. So as we went around the table, each colleague sounding off about the usual and sometimes mundane occurrences, one colleague who is often soft-spoken, shared her current state of mind. As Richa (pronounced Ree-cha) began to speak, she paused as if she was going to change her mind and refrain from saying anything, but she pressed on and began to tear up as she did. We were captivated and seriously concerned as we intensely listened on. Our colleague shared how the shooting made her feel. She professed, though she isn’t Muslim, being of Nepali heritage confuses people and has made her grieve alongside the Muslim community for their, our, global loss. She shared that even if people don’t feel that they are members of a targeted group, we should all be grieving together in solidarity and it often seems that we are too numb to do this.
As a nation, we have become complacent in our reactions, and most certainly our actions when it comes to gun violence. So often do we point a finger at mental illness as the cause for these misdeeds, but in my most global opinion, the true root cause of all of these actions is the fear of difference and of loss. Meaning, we in our American culture are afraid of those who aren’t like us and are afraid that they (People of Color, LGBTQI+, and even Women) have more of what we want than what we actually have. I would also include religion in this category too, but only because worshippers have been victims too; specifically speaking of the Jewish community and the holocaust. In contrast, fear-based radicalism or extremism has been founded by acts of violence; think 9/11 or the bombing of abortion clinics.
Fear has morphed into a grotesquely obscure and violent entity without shape or form yet having one common outcome, the death of the innocent. We have normalized mass shootings and practically all hate- based crimes in this country without real consequences to the perpetrator or groups responsible. Any attempt at corrective action or response is quickly countered by the more conservative folks, and most definitely organizations such as the National Rifle Association, say that it’s a person’s God given right to……(you can fill in the blank). Let’s also not forget the “sacred” doctrines of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, that are quickly thrust in our faces when there is mention of gun control. These documents are, and were, designed for the protection and benefit of white people and by white men to remain in control.
My colleague made a valid point in her observation about how we co-workers are frequently caught up in our own projects and are often unaware of how life and its impacts have an affect on each of us. You may say, that feelings are private matters.There is some truth in that, however, when the feelings cross from private to the public realm of the workplace, it is our responsibility to do a pulse check. A pulse check is a way to check in with a colleague on their wellbeing. As I’ve previously mentioned, my work environment is comprised of a small crew. If there is a kink in the chain, it can force you to get it fixed before things get worse. We all respond and react to tragedy differently. Some people choose to advocate for change by working with local/state officials to enact change, others bring their concerns to the streets in protest, and a few of us use our voices in written form to create dialogue and provide food for thought. When I heard of the attack, I thought of my friends in New Zealand and hoped that they were safe. Since this attack occurred at several mosques and the fact that my friends are not Muslim, I was almost certain they were spared any harm. This was later confirmed through Facebook in a “Marked Safe” post. Once seeing their posts, my attentions quickly shifted to something else and life went on.
In my opinion, having conversations create an environment where we (co-workers) can easily and safely assert ourselves to provide some emotional support to one another by simply checking in. This act of empathy may not be able to stop the feelings of sorrow and remorse in the event of tragic loss, but it does and can establish compassion and kindness for a fellow human being when it appears sometimes that no one else cares. We all should want our working relationships to be healthy where we are able to thrive and grow in synergistic harmony. The consequence for allowing a colleague to suffer emotionally is that their work too will suffer. Leaving other colleagues to pick up extra tasks to keep the workflow moving, and in our office this could only contribute to the problem.
On April 9, the New Zealand parliament voted 119 to 1 banning most assault rifles. This announcement by the New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern was quickly shared across the globe. In less than a month, the New Zealand government and its people have managed to do something for the collective good of a nation; this action was a befitting honor to the slain members of Muslim community, but also taking additional steps to prevent any future incursions by assault rifles from happening again. Yes, I know that violence can happen in any form when hate is strong enough, but building in barriers to protect all citizens was the right and just thing to do.
So why can’t something like this happen here in the United States of America? I have already alluded to a few reasons. But additionally, policies and self-interest groups also prevent change from happening. I also feel that our greatest hurdle for unity in this country lies in our individuality. We as Americans have been raised with the need to be number “One” in all that we do. So much of our culture has been founded in terms of “I”, rather than the collective “we” so that everything outside the scope of our periphery, is less important to me.
So, the next time a tragedy happens in our world, and it likely will, I promise to take a minute to do a pulse check. Try it. It will mean more than you realize!
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the Columbine shootings in Littleton, Colorado. Isn’t it time to for US to make a change for our greater good?