Brian Hamilton: It’s not ‘us vs. them’
February 20, 2018
It was the bylines that got me flipping through the scrapbooks. Newsprint clippings beneath "The Union" flag first caught my eye, with the familiar names of colleagues long ago who once covered what's become an annual visit by Tibetan monks to our community.
Carol Feineman, Roman Gohkman, Soumitro Sen among the writers; Dan Burkhart, Eileen Joyce and, of course, John Hart the photographers.
For 18 years now, Sierra Friends of Tibet has hosted refugee monks from a Tibetan monastery touring the country. And in the scrapbooks on display at the St. Joseph's Cultural Center, the story under the headline "Monks on a mission," reporting on their first visit here, stopped me.
Upon hearing the horrible news, the monks decided the mission on their first visit here was to help bring healing in the days that followed the Jan. 10, 2001 shootings, which left three dead, three wounded and our community struggling to come to grips with the horrors that happened.
We are not enemies. We are neighbors. We are Americans. And we’ve got a big problem we need to solve for the sake of our children and our way of life.
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And here the monks are again, visiting this week, as more Americans try to come to terms with another mass shooting by a man with a history of mental illness, with a gun and with a warped purpose.
Sad to say, same as it ever was.
That sure seems to be the case with the reaction as well, as even friends and family members shout each other down over social media memes and personal posts that draw lines that deeply — yet distortedly — divide us. Of course, the chasm between polar opposites on the political spectrum perfectly position the "discussion" for the kind of absolute black-and-white arguments being waged on the web.
But we all know this not a black-and-white issue. Like life, in general, it's much more complex than that.
Rather than starting with "Ban the guns!" or "Arm the teachers!" how about we start where we agree?
The online arguments are pulling us toward the polarity of our politics, but this is not about left and right. It's about right and wrong.
We can all agree these shootings are wrong, right? And we can agree mentally ill people should not possess firearms, right?
What can be done to keep guns out of unstable hands? How can we make our children on our school campuses more safe?
Let's start there.
On Monday, President Trump's staff said he's supportive of efforts to improve the federal background check system. On Tuesday, he directed the attorney general to propose regulations that ban all devices that turn legal weapons into "machine guns."
The conversation should start from there.
Eventually it should also extend into the far reaches of underlying issues that lead to such a senseless slaughter of innocent lives. More support for mental health needs and more security on school campuses are also logical aspects of the discussion, as we stay true to our agreed upon starting point.
But getting to such a conversation means setting aside the back-and-forth bickering, the predictably pointless responses put forth by "both sides." Because getting down to actually doing something about this means we need to be on the same side. It's not "us versus them." We are not enemies. We are neighbors. We are Americans. And we've got a big problem we need to solve for the sake of our children and our way of life.
Of course we're different. We've had different experiences that shape our beliefs. We have different opinions due to those experiences, whether rural or urban, rich or poor and black or white.
It used to be that we considered our different life experiences, points of view and cultural perspectives as what makes our society so special as the great "melting pot." Sharing differing opinions should make us stronger. Learning from each other makes us smarter and gives us a better understanding in arriving at decisions that take into account our varied points of view, whether or not we agree.
Yet the all-too obvious arguments we're having instead are keeping us from moving forward to make things better.
During a question-and-answer session Saturday, following a documentary film about their lives at the Gaden Shartse Monastery, some of the visiting monks said one of the reasons they've come back to western Nevada County each year is because we're such an "open-minded" community. Sometimes that's not so easily seen by those who live here, particularly when we're preoccupied by our own presumptions about "the other side" of any issue and problems we face.
In the hours that followed first word of last Wednesday's school shooting, a colleague correctly said such a scene could someday play out here. Of course, as many of us remember all too well, including our visiting monks, our community has already been so devastated once before.
"If we blame someone else, we're still left with all the negative feelings in our heart-minds," Lobsang Wangchuk, an American who lives at the monastery in India, told The Union in 2001. "We have the potential to change the minds of the beings in this community by engaging positive minds."
That is the opportunity we now have, for us to come together and learn from each other's experiences to affect the change we want to see.
And we should remember the experiences of that dreadful day in our own community, particularly those of the families forever impacted by the result of a gun in the hands of a mentally ill person.
Judith Edzards, Rick Senuty and Daisy Switzer the wounded. Pearlie Mae Feldman, Michael Markle and Laura Wilcox the slain.
We need to learn from history so that we stop repeating it. We need to stop taking sides in absurdly aimless arguments in the wake of such tragedies. And we need to recognize, whether we actually believe in karma beyond this life, that our actions — or inaction — today will help bring about the change we want to see — or it won't.
And sad to say, with those families in mind, that too is the same as it ever was.
Contact Editor Brian Hamilton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4249.
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