Colors Change How I Respond

The experience of waiting to see if that fellow showed up to shoot us could have pushed me in several different ways. I could have gone to a gun shop and purchased a gun. I could have quit my job and stayed home for the rest of my life. I could have gone out with my friends and had a beer and complained about my boss.

Okay, I came close to doing that last one. Instead of going out with my work friends, I spent the evening at a rehearsal and then had a beer when I got home.

Everyone has events, experiences, and teachings that color in the lines of their experience and help to shape their response. My colors came from my parents. They are pretty darn liberal, and in the midst of Arkansas where we got a couple of days off of school for deer hunting season, they always supported gun control.

Growing up, I heard them discuss and saw them put into practice the nonviolent teachings of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. I watched how peaceful disobedience could make a big change. I marched on Washington, DC as a sixteen-year-old girl, connected with other marchers, learned about lobbying, and lobbied my congressman and senator.

Later in my life (much, much, much later) after moving to Steamboat, I decided that after all of these years of supporting gun control, I needed to shoot a gun. The idea of even touching a gun had always terrified me, and I needed to overcome that fear. Also, having the actual experience of shooting a gun could change my mind. I needed to know.

Also, the local gun range was holding a “Ladies Night” where we could get a little class and then shoot for the first time at no charge.

Yep. Free was the thing that pushed me over the edge.

A friend (who was a regular at the gun range) went with me and we zipped off to the range.

At the class, the woman who taught gave us a book and a quick rundown on basic gun safety. She told us about how safe she felt with her gun in her purse when she went out. She talked about how semi-automatic is a better choice than automatic for a purse gun since the semiautomatic weapon wouldn’t jam when the inevitable detritus floating in your purse got tangled up with your gun. Then, we were off to the range.

A nice fellow put a pistol into my hand and showed me how to hold it (not with your finger on the trigger!). Then, I pointed the gun at the target, put my finger on the trigger, and shot.

Oh.

Oh my.

That was easy.

I hardly felt it.

I turned to my instructor and said, “That was so easy,” thinking I could so easily hurt someone with this action that I hardly even felt.

He pushed the gun so that it wasn’t pointed at him anymore and said, “Always make sure that, when you are not pointing the gun at your target, you are pointing it down.”

Did I mention I talk with my hands?

Suddenly, the moment where the bullet exited the muzzle became incredibly real. I could have accidentally shot this guy. And I wouldn’t have hardly even felt it.

My imagination unfolded a scenario where I went to the grocery store and, as I fumbled through my purse for change, I hit the trigger and my gun went off, scaring the cashier and the unfortunate customers behind me.

Nope. There’s no way I can be trusted with a gun.

The next day, I found one of the bullet casings in my cardigan pocket. I held it in my hand and felt proud of myself for overcoming my fear of shooting a gun.

Of course, now that I know it’s so easy, whenever I am watching tv and they show a gun pointed directly at the screen, I get a little shiver.

Three years ago, I knew a couple with a child. They were friends, not close friends, but close enough that I crocheted an afghan for the baby when he was born.

The woman killed her child, the one for whom I crocheted that afghan, with a gun.

A gun she got without a waiting period, obviously needing gun education, and a quick pass of a background check run by an hourly employee at a pawn shop.

This tragedy still resonates throughout the community. Last spring, on that child’s birthday, I discovered that his classmates will still wear a certain color in remembrance of him. They carry his memory and will for the rest of their lives.

This remembrance reminds me of my own loss of a classmate through a suicide enabled by a gun stored in an easily accessible place in the household. However, even though I was still young, I was sixteen. They were only nine. And the stigma of my friend’s suicide meant that no one chose to remember.

Because of all of these experiences and teachings which color my life, I find that I am more and more convinced that education needs to be an intrinsic part of gun ownership. I am more and more convinced that I want someone to pass a test – just like I passed my driver’s test – in order to own a gun. I believe that waiting periods are necessary.

Those are my colors. What are yours? What events and teachings and experiences form your political stance on this issue?

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Let’s Get Started with a Little Talk about Guns

Beginning each conversation, we need to pick an issue to discuss. As I consider the world around us and look for somewhere to begin, I am increasingly drawn to finding a solution to prevent the mass shootings and killings in this world.

People have tons of ideas and opinions on how to prevent these events. They talk about gun control laws, they talk about arming ordinary people, they talk about improving mental health support.

However, what is the basic problem to be solved here?

I believe that the basic problem is that we all fear dying from a gunshot as we all walk the streets and go to school or church or the mall or the nightclub or the park, we all fear our children will be shot in their schoolrooms, we all fear that we will forever view these sorts of tragedies as everyday instead of unusual.

So, I know that I want to remove that fear from my life, and I believe others do as well. This fear angers me and propels me into action.

However, before we begin the hard part of the conversation (the part where we converse and come together and find real solutions for this problem), let’s start by finding our stories around this issue. Here is mine:

As I hear about a school shooting, I think of the safety I felt at school as a child, surrounded by teachers and wandering about the school ground. My mother taught elementary music when I was in kindergarten, so once or twice a week (I can’t remember anymore) she would come to my classroom and teach us music. One day, lonely for her, I followed her home (we only lived a few yards from the school) and she let me stay, calling the school and letting them know where I was.

As I grew up, we remained in small towns. Even as I pushed against the loneliness and the realization that I would never fit in, I felt safe. My biggest worry was figuring out how to fit in with the people I wanted to be my friends; finding the right clothes; realizing that I would never fit in because I just didn’t want to; persevering through those hours of school time until I could go home and go to my room and find freedom in my books, music, and imagination.

I may have been an outcast, but I always felt safe at school.

After I graduated from college, I got a job at the same university as an administrative assistant. One day, a particularly edgy professor was let go from his position after many, many complaints from students and other teachers. The security service was called to escort him from the campus and, during the exit, he made several disturbing comments which led my supervisor to warn me and the receptionist (since we were closest to the front door) to watch out for this fellow. The inference was that this guy could show up with a grievance and a gun.

Back in 1992, these things were possible (it was after the workplace shooting which launched the inimitable phrase, “Going postal”), but very unusual.

My day got set on edge at that moment. I spent the day jittery, jumping at every loud noise and planning what I could do if this guy showed up with his gun. Where could I hide? Who would see the gun first? Could I protect my fellow employees? How would I even do that?

I felt betrayed. As an adult, I knew that teachers were only people, but here at school, they were supposed to be our protectors. That one would come to the office and start shooting secretaries seemed like it should be unthinkable.

I felt betrayed. The university, more than any other place of learning, had been a safe place, a place of freedom. This was the place where I found myself and others who were like me. This was the place where I experienced love and loss and learning and deeply felt art.

I felt betrayed. My job used my brain and my time for a pittance, and I shouldn’t have to worry about dying in order to fulfill my hours for the workday.

After work that day, I went home and railed against the universe. How could I go back to work? How could I make my workplace a safe place to be? How could I make my school safe again?

Of course, I pulled on my big girl panties and went back to work the next day, shaken but undeterred from paying my bills.

I wasn’t afraid. Well, I was afraid, but I was angry too. How could that one fellow throw my being into such a tizzy? I’d never spent any time with him. I didn’t really know who he was. Today, I don’t even remember his name. And yet, my entire life had been changed with the realization that my workplace and my school were not necessarily safe.

So, whenever I hear about a shooting at a school or a nightclub or a church, I remember that day and how nervous I felt all day long. I remember the betrayal and the fear and the anger hitting me in the heart and belly.

That is my story. That is my visceral point of reference.

What is your story about gun violence?  What is your point of reference when you enter these discussions about how to remove this fear from our lives?

Considering your story and putting it into words helps you find your point of reference as you start participating in the conversation.  Until I began to write this blog post, I didn’t realize how much that single afternoon colored my views on this issue.

Sharing your story helps us all understand your experience and empathize with you as we come together and start to create real solutions for the problems we are considering.

Let’s share our stories.  No solutions, no points of view, no judgement, no politics.  Just the story. 

Your story.

We’ll talk about the rest later.

How to Create a Conversation

My hope with this website is that we can create conversations to discuss the sticky problems of the world and perhaps even find solutions.

Here’s how it will go:

To begin the process, an issue will be identified which the community wants to discuss. The issue could be anything from automatic weapons in America to abortion to delays at the airport.

(If you have an issue that you would like to discuss, please share it with me via email or on our Facebook page.)

With the beginning of each new conversation, a blog entry will explore the reason why this issue needs to be discussed and delve into the root of that issue to find the place where we agree. For example, the reason that someone is concerned about automatic weapons is because that person is afraid of someone shooting their children in school. I think we can all agree that children should be safe at school. So, how to insure the safety of children at school becomes the topic of the conversation.

Next, within the comments, we begin the conversation. Everyone presents their views on how to solve the problem addressed by the topic of the conversation.

Within these presentations, please include your story of how you came to this view. Including your reasoning, whether it has to do with research on the issue or a personal story from your life, helps to build the bridge of understanding and is essential to the success of this project. To see this technique in action, read this article from Urban Confessional.

As we gather these different points of view, open minds and open hearts become the rule. Listen to what each person has to say before responding. Know that we are all working in the same direction.

Make sure you are presenting and responding in a respectful manner. Often, especially when we are discussing issues with deep emotional roots, conversations can become heated. Please make sure that your words honor others and yourself and further the conversation instead of just inflaming a disagreement.

As I am creating a safe space for conversation, trolling (unhelpful, inflammatory, intolerant, and disrespectful speech) will not be tolerated and trolls will be excluded from the conversation and blocked from the comment section.

Do not feed the trolls by engaging with them. Their only reason for engagement is to promote anarchy and divisiveness in the conversation. Since this does not further our search for a solution, please do not spend any of your special time on this earth worrying about them.

All comments are moderated in order to prevent this, but if that moderation fails in some fashion, please report the offender to me at grayareaconnects@gmail.com.

Finally, further blog entries will update the community on where we seem to be in our discussion and present research and stories from the conversation which seem to speak to the issue we are addressing at the moment.

If you would like to write a blog entry at any point in the conversation, please submit your entry here. I welcome your ideas, words and assistance!

What’s Going On Here?

The thing is, I feel like everyone is so disrespectful to each other these days. We strive for outlandishness, celebrate rudeness, laugh at the misfortune of others. We disdain political correctness.

How do we inject respectful conversation back into the world?

I think it can only happen with each of us being open to other points of view, refraining from leaping to conclusions, and asking “why do you believe this?” instead of shutting people out.

We have to stop recycling the words of pundits and start speaking our own minds. We have to laugh together and find points of agreement and empathy. We have to commit to creating conversations and not speeches. We have to cry together and find a way to live together through differing beliefs.

Our responsibility as citizens is to have these conversations, find the solutions, escape the rhetoric and rudeness, find the quiet center – that place where we agree, that place where we celebrate together.

We need to acknowledge that new things are scary and find ways to make them less scary for each other through education and conversation.

We need to listen to our scholars and explore for the simple joy of finding new knowledge.

We need to acknowledge that our thoughts are OUR thoughts and belong to us. No one else gets to co-opt our brains. Our thoughts are our responsibility and we need to study them to find out why we feel that way and why we think that way.

These acts allow us to come together, find the facts, embrace the truth, and move forward in conversation and actions to create our own solutions to these sticky problems.

These acts allow us to reject the idea that different paths are black or white, right or wrong, helpful or hurtful.

Our solutions come from embracing the gray area: a place where no one is right or wrong; a place where respectful, real conversation can happen; a place where people with widely differing viewpoints can find common ground.

This won’t happen in a soundbite or bullet points. There won’t be corporate-funded research or smart-ass memes. (Well, there may be smart-ass memes, but we will laugh and walk away instead of treating them like facts.)

I think this movement has to be small because only individuals can make it happen. Only individuals can create conversations.

We are searching together for solutions. We are researching the facts. We are looking realistically at the situation. We are compromising so the solution works for everyone.

Join me in the gray area where we can make real, useful change happen.

It’s up to us. We are on our own.

Let’s do this thing.