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Monday, January 10, 2011

The Tucson Tragedy - Now What?

The unimaginable and incomprehensible catastrophe that occurred in Tucson, Arizona last Saturday was shocking on many levels. The incident begs several questions of teachers and parents - "How do we explain this to kids? What do we say? What can we do?

My November 2nd Blog posting entitled, "Who Wins?" spoke to concerns about the increasingly fiery rhetoric evidenced during the election campaigns and the impact those war of words might have on children. It also expressed disappointment with the perception that our society was becoming more divisive and exclusionary in an "either-or" political atmosphere, and lamented the waning presence of an accommodating and inclusive "and-both" environment. Collaboration and constructive conflict resolution yielding mutual benefits still exist but are largely obscured by all too frequent headlines and newscasts of winner-take-all arguments where victors appear to be decided by who yells loudest and longest. Civility has become a casualty.

Let's look at the varied layers of the Tucson Tragedy.

People have certainly and understandably focused on the miserable and misguided young man who pulled the trigger over and over. Anger has been articulated in as many forms as you can describe and perhaps exhausted the dictionary's reservoir of descriptors.

The innocent and unfortunate victims have been the recipients of countless prayers and supportive thoughts. We all know their names now and have read of their lives. Tributes to the killed and the injured reflect a diverse collection of everyday people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, intersecting with a fate twisted by a deranged young man. They are someone's spouse, sibling, parent, child, friend, and neighbor. They are no different than you and me.

The aftermath of this horrific act has produced even more discord, with people divided by interests flooding airwaves and Internet sites - gun control versus 2nd amendment advocates, democrats versus republicans, left versus right, talk show hosts versus mainstream media... This is no way to show honor and respect to the victims and their loved ones. If we don't collectively steer clear of these disputes we will lose the opportunity to convert this terrible shooting into the impetus needed to launch a self-analysis on a nationwide scale. Rather than expend energy in further arguments over blame and responsibility we should step back, take a deep breath, examine the issue candidly and objectively, determine a future direction in our best interests, and engage in dialogue on the difference between debate and argument, between freedom of expression and unbridled vitriol, between impartial facts and intentionally distorted fictions... There's a lot of work to do.

There's no easy way to talk to children about death, whether its the loss of a pet or a grandparent. The shootings that claimed six lives and injured fourteen others in Tucson will be a challenge to discuss with children, particularly since one of those who died that day was a nine-year old girl.

A young man undeniably killed six people and injured fourteen others and in the process inflicted pain and anguish across our country in waves of grief. That is unmistakable and unforgivable. But, one thing we can do - after we work our way through the mind boggling events of that day and pray for the victims - is to avoid allowing the worst of humankind to cause us to lose sight of the best we have to offer.

First, we must be thankful we have public servants like Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and other political representatives like her who willingly sacrifice their time and efforts to shape policy and legislation designed to ensure our freedom and protect our rights. Remember, she was promoting constituent access to elected officials in her "Congress on a Corner" event at the time she was shot. Let's not forget her 20 year old intern (in his fifth day of work for Giffords) who bravely ran in the direction of the gunshots and rushed to provide assistance to those in need. He discovered Giffords lying in a pool of blood and went to her side, holding her head up to prevent her from choking on her blood, applying pressure to her wound to help stem the bleeding, and holding her hand as she suffered from the agony of the shot that pierced her brain. What about the emergency medical staff who had Giffords in the able hands of highly skilled trauma doctors within 38 minutes of the shooting? - a fact that increased her odds of survival. How about the lady, wounded by a bullet, who grabbed the bullet clip the shooter had ready to replenish his gun and increase the victims? There were also the two men who wrestled the shooter to the ground and restrained him until police arrived. There was the man who died while shielding his wife from the line of fire. And, I'm sure there are more people and more stories that will emerge from the tragedy. However sad and unfortunate it is that we have despicable individuals like Jared Loughner within our society, we are blessed to also have a much larger number of incredible individuals like those ordinary people who performed at extraordinary levels during the chaos of that Saturday.

Let's honor and support the victims, appreciate and acknowledge the heroes, and learn from the experience.

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