What Can We Say?

What can we say … when there aren’t words to express how we feel?  In the wake of a tragedy like the one in Newtown Friday, what can we – what should we – say?

By the time I got home on Friday afternoon, still stunned, and looked at some social-media feeds, it was clear that lots of folks knew exactly what they wanted to say.  It was the same-old, same-old, of course.  Friends who are pro-gun-control had gathered their memes and their talking points; friends who are anti-gun-control had done the same.

At first I was mad.  How dare they – how dare we – respond to tragedies with the same-old same-old, with anger and name-calling and old, stale arguments?  But I took some time, some space, to reflect – to try for the distance, the “space between stimulus and response” in Stephen Covey’s terms.  And now I think I understand that visceral name-calling better.  And I definitely sympathize.

Talking past each other, with the same stale arguments that never worked before, is an understandable response in a time of tragedy.  It’s what we usually do – and when everything is turned upside down, we crave the usual.  We cling to the old, familiar things because it’s easier than facing a strange new world.  When my mother died in 1997, it was very important for me to arrange her house exactly the way it should be one last time.  No one else would ever see it; no one else would ever care; but it was important to me.  It’s what we usually did – so it’s what I wanted to do then.

And on dark, painful days, it’s important to find community.  It won’t be a joyful community, most likely – but community is really important in painful times.  When you live in a fractured society, full of people talking past each other, those same-old stale talking points and arguments may be more about finding your community than about trying to persuade Those Others.

But sadly, the yelling and labeling will have an effect on others.  It may help folks find their own little communities, but it sends a loud, ugly message to anyone who disagrees.  How can we balance forming small communities – needed ones – with not fracturing the greater ones?

And what do you say – what can you say, what should you say – after you’ve formed those small communities? How can we move past the yelling and labeling and into a broader, deeper community, one wide enough to include the folks we disagree with as well as those we agree with?  One broad enough for Ms. X her student O to discover their shared love of needlework, for Former Ms. X and K to find they do both love history?  For me, Ms. X, and Mr. Y to see each other as people not labels?  One strong enough to help us listen, not yell?

And how does it all fit in to the carefully constructed lesson plans and pacing guides and tutoring sessions and remediation for standardized tests – and the holiday parties and concerts and plays and celebrations of all kinds schools had planned for this week?

How can we build a strong, joyful community in the midst of grief?

Published in: on December 17, 2012 at 11:07 am  Leave a Comment  

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