Channel anxiety into awareness. Live the full life that this country offers you.
— FBI Director James Comey
THAT QUOTE from this past Monday really struck me.
This nation now has a decade-plus experience with mass shootings. Virtually all follow a similar pattern, often with the exact same weapons.
We all know the details by now, you don’t need to hear it from me again. It almost seems useless to write about. You could re-run the same column or article every time and no one would notice.
While victims, their families, and first responders take on the full measure of grief and terror and loss and stress, the rest of us begin debating immediately.
Just as the shootings are similar in equipment and methodology, so are the social media arguments like Groundhog Day: The same cut-and-paste debates over and over, with no resolution, no common ground, no movement forward.
Like the shootings themselves, the debates are virtually identical and follow a well-worn pattern.
Within minutes, sometimes seconds, of news of a tragic mass shooting, people split into their respective camps and begin the now-ritual war of words.
Team Red would prefer that the shooter turn out to be a radicalized Muslim. Team Blue would prefer that the shooter turn out to be a white male gun nut.
We watch for the identity of the shooter to see if the incident will fit into the preconceived box we would most like it to fit neatly into.
Depending on how the news breaks, one Team gets bragging rights, the other going quiet and metaphorically shaking their fist like in the old cartoons: Rats, foiled again. Wait 'til next time.
(After the San Bernardino shooting, I overheard a liberal friend lament, “I was really disappointed to find out it was ISIS.” At least she gets points for honesty. You may have similar stories from any number of points of view.)
Sometimes, the shooter doesn’t fit either description well, and Team Blue and Team Red call it a draw for that bout. Those are the stories that fade after a day, which might be an indication that we find the debate more noteworthy than the tragedy.
Then you have your various subgroups, the Virtue Signalers, the Empathy Shamers, the Unfriend-Mes. All a variant of narcissist, all saying it’s not about them while in reality it’s all about them.
Social media incentivizes and rewards kneejerk emotional reaction over critical thinking. So much so that we now have emojis in addition to the like button. We don’t even have to bother typing, “I’m happy” or “haha.”.
The goal of the emotional reaction is peer approval. The person who leaps to the most extreme conclusion the quickest, gets the most likes from their peer group.
If a liberal says, “Ban all the guns,” they get likes from their side. If a conservative says, “Ban all the Muslims,” they get likes from their side.
And everyone gets further and further apart.
In the meantime, there are the actual victims. Oh yeah, the victims. Sometimes we get so caught up in our ancient rivalries that we forget about them.
This time, the victims were of two marginalized and oppressed groups, LGBT citizens at a nightclub on Latin Night. The hate crime—and such an act can be both an act of terror and a hate crime, they aren’t mutually exclusive —lent an even more evil cast to an already horrible act.
That the attack also came during a debate over transgender bathrooms lent a domestic layer to the incident, reinforcing the fact that despite whatever gains the LGBT movement has made over the past decade, there remains a truly massive level of bigotry against them from many quarters, inside as well as outside our borders.
In these tragedies, everyone sees different, poignant details which strike them hardest and closest to the heart.
For me, it is the texts the victims sent to loved ones during the shooting.
“I’m gonna die.”
“I love you mommy.”
It’s impossible for your heart not to break reading them, feeling the sheer panic of these people resigned to death, like so many others before them, paralyzed with fear.
Reading them also made me determined that I should never, ever have to send or receive one of those texts myself.
It made me determined to spend less time debating the politics, and more time talking to my loved ones about what they might do in such an “unimaginable” situation—that is actually quite imaginable since it happens so often.
Simple question: Why, after decades of the same scenario played out dozens of times, with a trillion-dollar plus national security apparatus, can this country not seem to come up with a basic, standardized Active Shooter Protocol to educate Americans on preventive steps one can take in such an emergency to increase one’s chances of survival?
Because what we’re doing now?
It. Isn’t. Working.
Think about it: Why don’t we have some expert-created, peer-approved, nonpartisan, noncontroversial ideas for what to do if you find yourself in a mass shooting?
Simple stuff. Basic stuff. Nonpolitical stuff.
We already spend all day fighting on Facebook. Why not spend a few minutes learning some practical survival tips?
I don't view it as capitulation, or "letting the terrorists win." I view it as common sense.
You don’t have to call it an Active Shooter Protocol. Call it Fried Bananas. I don’t care.
It doesn’t have to involve guns or macho stuff. No politics.
Just talk with family and friends about how to keep a cool head, about situational awareness, about the importance of not panicking, about the important of staying on the move, about knowing where the exits are.
Anything but waiting to die, texting your last words.
I don’t want any more Facebook debates. Do you? They haven’t changed one mind.
Working for policy change is great. It’s the American way.
But in the meantime what I want to know now is what to do if it happens next.
When it happens next. Because it will.
Is it wrong to have a game plan for an emergency? To “channel anxiety into awareness?”
It’s not sexy. And it’s not controversial. Or it should’t be, anyway.
What I’m saying isn’t raw, unfocused emotion, so I won’t get a lot of likes for it.
But if it gets one person or one family to take their future into their own hands, it’s worth getting flamed over.