Americans are fairly predictable, aren’t we? Yes, we subscribe to many of the stereotypes that our friends around the world tend to ascribe to us. We’re loud and proud, verging on being (to put it lightly) obnoxious. We are often under- or misinformed about what’s going on in other countries (or even in our own), and our arrogance often blinds us to the fact that we’re not as special as we like to think we are.
But that’s not what I’m talking about.
“Thoughts and prayers.”
We’ve been hearing that a lot lately. There are lots of thoughts and prayers going out to the victims of one tragedy or another. Puerto Rico. Mexico. Las Vegas. Whoever. Wherever.
Thoughts and prayers, thoughts and prayers…
Thoughts and prayers are what you offer to your friend when her elderly mother dies. It’s what you give when you have nothing else to give. When what’s done is done and there’s no further action that can be taken. When there was nothing that could have been done to prevent what happened from happening. When an incident is isolated and cannot reasonably be prevented from happening again.
Now is not the time for thoughts and prayers. Sure, they’re appreciated, but they’re not nearly enough. For all of the suffering happening around the country and around the world, empty words and obligatory statements and appearances are a waste of time and energy.
Now is the time for action. And real talk.
Here’s where we get really predictable.
For one thing, half of the country’s been too worried about some kneeling football players to pay attention to the fact that there are people who are actually dying. Whatever. Let them kneel. It’s literally the simplest, most non-confrontational way they can protest. They’re not hurting anybody. They’re certainly not killing anybody. They’re not the priority right.this.moment.
Are we really so easily distracted? Are we really so self-involved that we can choose to not care about or help fellow Americans in need?
Priorities, man! When there are people without food and water in Puerto Rico, they’re a higher priority than football players. I’m not trying to diminish the players’ platform or efforts by any means. I’m pointing out the fact that people actively suffering and dying will (or at least, should) always take precedence over…pretty much any other issue.
And yet, the fact that our flag is being “disrespected” is apparently so upsetting for people that we need to talk about it right.this.moment.*
*In fact, they’re so worried about the flag that they’re completely overlooking the issue that’s actually being protested, but that’s another story for another day.
Along that same line, now is also the time to discuss Puerto Rico’s insane amount of debt.
And how well President Trump has handled the disaster in PR, despite the fact that he absolutely hasn’t handled it well.
And how we’re not sure how to hate a wealthy, white, American male who happened to kill dozens of people, despite the fact that he killed dozens of people.
The Las Vegas shooter broke the stereotypes. We can’t issue a travel ban to keep his demographic from coming into our country. We can’t build a wall to keep people like him out. We can’t racially-profile people who look like him at our airports. We can’t blame his religion on why he did what he did. We can’t blame his poverty on how he turned out the way he did. We can’t hone in on a motive to blame for his actions, let alone a mental illness.
Apparently, we can’t just hate him because he killed dozens of people. That’s not enough. It has to be a bigger issue. It has to be racially/socially/religiously/economically-driven issue.
…Because gun control is off the discussion table, even though it’s the real issue.
I live in Texas. Guns are a thing. Most guys I know have at least one gun in their possession. Many people aren’t terribly bothered by the fact that they’re around. Gun shows are frequent and popular. Gun ranges are thriving businesses.
I’m not anti-gun. I’m not proposing that we take everyone’s guns away.
But when mass shootings are becoming so frequent and commonplace that it doesn’t even make national news anymore when a handful of people are shot, and when the death tolls are becoming increasingly higher – WHEN is enough enough?
Americans are predictable.
We all rally behind the victims and their families. We light candles in their memory. We binge-watch the news because we’re supposed to stay informed about what’s happened. The inevitable thoughts and prayers are offered a thousand times over from every decent politician and celebrity.
There’s outrage on social media over why this is still happening. Some politicians join in, declaring that yes, this is ridiculous and something should be done about it.
And then, Trump says something dumb and nothing else matters. We’ve forgotten about how desperately we needed to update our centuries-old gun laws only days before. Our sense of urgency is out the window because it’s no longer a pressing issue.
…Until it happens again. Except this time, worse. More lives lost. More destruction of property. More dollars in infrastructure repairs and healthcare. More advanced and devastating weaponry.
And the cycle continues. On and on. Over and over again. Our attention spans grow shorter. Our tolerance levels grow higher. Our inherent sense of struggle grows weaker.
Our capacity for change is diminished.
So, I’ve been on a bit of a Ryan Gosling kick lately (But really, when am I not?). In his film, Half Nelson, his character tries to explain what it really means to study history to a classroom of students.
“History is the study of change over time. What’s change? It’s opposites. It’s two things that push against each other in opposite directions… So [the] minority struggles, and it fights, and it pushes, until eventually, it becomes the majority.”
We study history to learn from our previous mistakes. We study it in the hopes of illuminating where we came from, understanding why things are they way they are, and determining how we can go forward from our past and present.
In the case of gun control laws, the NRA is not the majority. The lobbyists, while they’re powerful, are not the majority. But they know how to ceaselessly push an issue, poke and prod politicians, and show up enough times to make their voices heard and to acquire real influence in government.
Whatever your stance is on whatever the issue du jour is, thoughts and prayers are fine, but our country needs more. Change is not brought about by a bunch of people yelling for a short amount of time. Think of it like a toddler throwing a temper tantrum. It screams and kicks and cries and hits, but most parents know that the tantrum will eventually pass. Either the kid will get tired of throwing it, or they’ll simply give up on whatever they wanted in the first place.
We’re a nation of impatient toddlers and our government is the adult supervisor. They’re not bothered by our Facebook posts or Twitter rants. They just wait them out.
We can do better. Let’s do better. It won’t be easy. It’ll be exhausting. But we need to do better, and we need to do it beyond the subsequent outrage.
We need to do it for our people. For our future.