Look for helpers, but lead the way yourself

I don’t really want to write about last weekend’s shooting in Orlando. I don’t know what I could possibly say that would make a difference. I don’t want to write something that sounds pretty about something that is so ugly. Nor do I want to be told that anything was well said, because well said is worthless in a time like this.

Twitter on Sunday was filled with expressions of sadness, support, and outrage. But the fourth tweet I saw was the perennial Mister Rogers quote: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” It’s a nice thing to say to a scared child. But we are grownups now, and our job is to pay attention to the problem.

Because there are too many times like this, and during too many of those, we’ve all said too little. I was waiting for a table in a diner on Sunday morning when I read about the Orlando shooting on a TV screen in the corner. I was saddened, but not surprised. As the death toll grew from 20 to 50 while I was eating an omelette, it was announced that this was the largest mass shooting in United States history.

My first university philosophy class was cancelled on Sept. 11, 2001, because the professor didn’t think it was a time for reviewing syllabi. But later that term, he posed the question, “What is terrorism?” And the answer, eventually decided upon by a lecture hall full of 19-year-olds, was that it is the use not of force, but of fear, to exert political pressure.

Some terrorists are very clear that their motivations are political. Most of them, however, are too dead to talk about it the next day. Whether they intend to incite fear or not, though, they do. And if they fail to use that fear as a lever for their political will, others will step in and see that it doesn’t go to waste.

That’s how we end up with Donald Trump giving speeches about how he called it, and telling the country that it’s time everyone listened to him and keep “those people” out. That Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing, and Clinton can only be worse. Donald Trump is both the result of terrorism, and by my Philosophy 101 class’s definition, a perpetrator of it.

What we can agree on is that there’s a pressing problem. According to MotherJones.com, in the past year, there have been 10 “seemingly indiscriminate” mass shootings in public places in the United States.

Ten times, someone shot into the crowd or at whichever people happen to be passing by.

The government of Canada has open travel advisories for areas with fewer incidents. How long do we maintain this quietly supportive relationship with a country whose priorities are so far removed from our own?

We say we’re lucky to live in Canada, but we are lucky because others worked hard to build what we now only have to maintain.

They didn’t look for helpers to comfort themselves. They accepted the discomfort that comes from facing a problem, and they became helpers. There’s so much still to do — which will you choose?

Originally published in Our London on June 16, 2016.