I don’t really have the wit or the writing skill to explain what troubles me most about the recent shooting in Arizona. It’s troubling on so many levels. There’s plenty of valid criticism to be made about the poisonous, venomous, right-wing rhetoric (and yes, you can find some on the left, too, but these days it’s overwhelmingly from the right) that passes for political “discourse.” There’s plenty to be said about “don’t retreat, reload” and crosshairs on congressional districts, and “second amendment solutions.” All of that is very dangerous, very ugly, and while it’s a symptom, not a cause, it’s still a troubling symptom.
But there’s also some other rhetoric that demands critique and examination and soul-searching. I’m reading, from all sides of the political spectrum (but again, mostly from the right), things like “lunatic,” whackjob,” “psycho,” “nutter,” “head case.”
The main, primary tragedy here is the innocent people, including the young girl, who were killed or wounded. But there’s another tragedy, too. And in a way there’s another victim. The young man who did the shooting had a terrible illness. And (as far as we know now) it was completely untreated. We haven’t at this point heard anything from his family, but I know how hard it can be to treat someone with this illness. How hard it can be to watch him deteriorate and separate from all that he was. We do know that this young man acted out in class, and we do know that the school identified the problem as one of mental illness. And I know that sometimes schools, even schools where they should know better, identify the kind of behavior he demonstrated as just “bad” behavior, without even asking for or requiring treatment.
Most people with the illness this young man had are not violent at all–at least not to other people. And it’s a terrible shame that he killed and hurt so many innocent others. But it’s also a terrible shame how vastly more often this illness kills and hurts the people who suffer from the illness–taking away the people that they were, even taking away their physical health or sometimes their lives. And hurting–even if not with shooting–many innocent people, too–their families and friends.
We need to think about political discourse. We need to think about poisonous partisan hatred. But we also need–every day–today–to think about how we respond, how we fail to treat, fail to understand, fail to identify, the illness that destroys so many more lives all the time…even (or especially) when there is no gun, no shooter, but still a complete and tragic destruction of a person.