People are shocked and saddened today in my home town of Colorado Springs, the latest location targeted by the guy-with-gun scenario that has become so familiar in the United States.
This time it was a Planned Parenthood clinic, and while the motive has yet to be confirmed, it’s likely the obvious. If that’s so, expect pundits and protesters to use the shooting to bolster their own fractious views in the long, weary debate over reproductive rights among Americans, who cannot seem to agree that a woman’s body is her own.
I don’t know that the particulars really matter, though. Because it could instead have been another school, another theater, another church. It could have been motivated by politics or religion or simply the deeply personal misery of one isolated man gone over the edge.
We like to believe that terrorism — wholesale synchronized attacks, like ISIS, or the individual Rambo-style shootings we see in America — is committed by people who aren’t like us. But I think they are like us, our darkest parts amplified — every human misery writ large. And then armed, and thus enabled to inflict maximally outward every pain they could not bear to face within.
The venerable Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hahn says this:
Misunderstanding, fear, anger, and hatred are the roots of terrorism. They cannot be located by the military. Bombs and missiles cannot reach them, let alone destroy them, for terrorism lies in the hearts of human beings. To uproot terror, we need to begin by looking at our own hearts. We don’t need to destroy each other, either physically or psychologically. Only by calming our minds and looking deeply inside ourselves will we develop the insight to identify the roots of terrorism. With compassion and communication, terrorism can be uprooted and transformed into love.
He is right, of course, but he is speaking of the spirit at a level of individual accountability from which most human beings ultimately shrink. And even if we muster the courage to do this inner work, we are poorly equipped to perceive the urgent need of another to confront his own demons before he shoulders his weapons and straps on the ammo.
As individuals, we often fail to get to the root of violence in ourselves and others. But as a society, we can choose to control the means to express it, to limit access to weapons that enable one man’s stunted heart and spirit to so quickly and easily become a community’s tragedy. Yet we lack the will for gun control in the United States. Because, you know: Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.
Well, of course. But guns make it a lot easier for one person to kill a lot of other people in a hurry.
There will be vigils in Colorado Springs in the days to come, prayers for those wounded and memorials for those slain. And, around the United States, the predictable alarm sounded once more over gun violence. And then: Nothing.
We’ve seen it all before, at shopping malls and schools, theaters and churches. Anywhere now, it seems, at any time. And we’ll see it all again.