Polarization and paralysis: guns and violence
Polarization in Congress is paralyzing our political system. While constituents urge forward movement, the blame game continues to be played. People who feel passionately about a subject and are courageous enough to speak up about their position are needed, but those unwilling to listen to opposing viewpoints deter progress.
As a society and as individuals, we need to hold the paradox that conflict is inevitable and that a way forward is possible. Impassioned positions can help us get to the heart of the matter more quickly.
Sometimes it takes the anger during a fight for a spouse to finally blurt out what’s been bothering them, but then the couple can deal with the issue. When buried emotions burst out, it’s often messy but once exposed, healing can begin.
On an emotional issue such as guns and violence, opposing sides both suffer. Taking a softer look at the pain on each side can foster resolution. On one side people want guns for protection and on the other are those who oppose guns as an instrument of violence. Fear, whether conscious or not, motivates both positions. Some fear their house might be broken into if they don’t have a gun in the home. Others fear that they may be assaulted on the street if they aren’t armed. Second Amendment advocates fear the government will take away their right to protect themselves.
On the other side are those who can’t stand the sight of a gun. They, too, experience fear that the proliferation of weapons will be the end to civilized society. They fear that the sanctity of life is violated by the availability of automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines.
Whether your position is viewed more as a hawk or a dove, it would be beneficial if both could learn to listen to the other side less defensively.
My high school debate class was a challenge, especially when I was assigned to defend the position I opposed, yet it certainly held merit to broadening my perspective.
What if Republicans and Democrats were forced to present the opposing view on the floor of the Senate? Would this break the gridlock and cause them to see some areas of common ground that could be used to compromise?
Can you empathize with those holding an opposing view and be someone who helps define a middle ground? If we as Americans could envision the gap narrowing between this wide divide, we’d become better at building that bridge of understanding.
When we struggle to talk about controversial topics in the news, it can be easier to address them from a fictional standpoint. Jodi Picoult’s novel “Nineteen Minutes” is a troubling portrait of the bullies and the bullied which provided me that venue.
As I struggled to cope with the loss of innocent students at that elementary school in Connecticut, it prompted me to finally read her book, which I’d purchased years ago.
Her fictional work wove a story that addressed the issue of guns and violence from numerous points of view. I couldn’t help but empathize with Peter, the bullied outcast, even though he became the mass murderer.
Rather than blindly blaming his parents and questioning how they raised him, I felt for their own struggle to come to terms with how little they knew of their teenage son’s inner turmoil.
The popular girl, Jose, was afraid that unless she went along with the taunting of Peter, she’d be relegated to the ranks of the unpopular. Her mother, the judge, was slated to hear the case which would advance her career, but further polarize her from her teenage daughter.
Picoult’s fiction is asking us to see beliefs not as absolute truths, but rather an invitation for a conversation to learn from another’s point of view. Online at www.jodipicoult.com you’ll find book club discussion questions such as: When is it OK to fight back?
Perhaps this mass shooting is asking us to soften our judgments, take a wider more inclusive view and look upon problematic cultural situations with greater clarity and compassion.
Kristi McCracken, author of two children’s books and a long time teacher in the South Valley, can be reached at email@example.com.