Yet another tragedy has hit the United States. The problem with that sentence is not the word “tragedy” – it’s the word “another.”
Last night, in Las Vegas, blood was shed as innocent people’s lives were ended and changed forever. But it wasn’t a “shooting” or a “killing” or even a “violent attack” – those phrases are all too passive and have become far too acceptable in our society. It was murder. Mass murder. And the man who was responsible was not a “lone wolf” or a “shooter” or a “gunman” – he was a murderer.
Any human who takes another human’s life, knowingly and willingly (with few exceptions such as war), is a murderer. Death from an accident is not labeled murder, it’s called manslaughter.
Murder is murder.
It’s not “shootings” or “killings” or any other word we have come to use to somehow make it feel better. It’s murder.
Murder is the taking of another person’s life, for any reason – yes, even mental illness. (When a person with mental illness commits murder, we have different laws for that, but we still have laws. It’s not an excuse for the behavior, it’s a parameter by which their consequences are decided. The action was still murder.)
Yet, today I see people fighting over labels, because of the possibility of mental illness, instead of calling him what he is. People are arguing over the disparity in the media’s use of the words “terrorist” vs. “lone wolf” or “gunman” based on the man’s skin color. These are valid points, and ones that clearly need to be addressed by the one’s using the terminology, but they are also points that distract us from the issue at hand: How do we prevent mass murder? Whether by a terrorist, a person with mental illness, a gang member, or anybody else.
We’re distracted from the core issue, because it’s almost too much to deal with in our current emotional state. So, we fight. We fight about what’s most accessible: the words.
Why do we do this? Because our emotions are on overwhelm and we have too much energy coursing through our bodies, so we are fighting over anything we can wrap our heads around, anything tangible. Murder is not tangible, senseless murder even less so. We can’t wrap our heads around it, so instead we fight over the words used to describe the person who committed murder, as we try desperately to gain some foothold in an otherwise chaotic moment.
We are fried, and we don’t want to be. We don’t want to get to a point where this type of event is acceptable or even expected. So, we fight for our lives, our society, by focusing on the things that are closest to the surface, where we feel we can take a stand.
So, let’s make this easier: whether mentally ill or a terrorist, if you knowingly take another’s life (again, with few exceptions like war), the word to use is “murderer.” “Murderer” carries no association with religion, gender, or skin color, and takes the focus off the surface-level issues, which frees up our time and emotions to address what really matters: preventing murders and mass murders, by focusing on the causes.
I realize that our frustrated, angry, broken-hearted energy needs to go somewhere. So…
- Let it go to fixing the problem, not blaming the result or the labels used to describe the event.
- Let the energy running through you be channeled into something greater than anger and fear.
- Let it go to change.
Change carries more power than anger and fear ever will, because it’s a focused energy, which means it will help you feel better as you work with it. And when it doesn’t, when it feels overwhelming, then I’ve found that walking in the woods helps. For some it’s running or yoga, for others it’s boxing or cross-fit or meditation. Whatever it is, the important thing is to create a focused use of the tidal wave of emotional energy we are all experiencing in the aftermath of another tragedy.
Then, there are steps we can take to regain a feeling of empowerment after tragedy and grief:
The first step out of overwhelm is always to speak truth to it: This was murder. Mass murder. Name it, and take it out of the shadows where fear and anger reside.
The second step is to create change: What can we do to prevent it ever happening again? Brainstorm ideas with friends and colleagues. Start talking and discussing, not fighting.
The third step, possibly the most important step, is to live an empowered life embodying love and hope: What can I do myself, to create change, personally, locally, regionally, or globally? Empowered action starts from within, always.
Everyone’s answer to that last step is different. Mutual respect, communication, and understanding will make it all possible. Where there is overlap, we create community. But no single solution to create positive change is wrong, even if it’s not right for you.
This is where the fourth step comes in: Embrace each other with respect and curiosity. Listen, listen, listen.
Then take action.