How Can We Respond to Tragedies Like the Orlando Shooting?

Let's put healing first.
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Let's put healing first.

By now you’ve heard about the horrific tragedy in Orlando, in which a man named Omar Mateen shot up a nightclub in Orlando, FL leaving 49 dead and 53 injured. It was the deadliest mass shooting in American history. Horrifying and tragic as it is, the incident is rife with controversy. The night club, Pulse, was a gay club. The shooter, born in America, pledged allegiance to ISIS. His guns were legally purchased. As it is, the incident presents an opportunity to reignite conversations on any number of highly controversial political topics.

Many of us may feel passionately that we hold the solution, partial or whole, to the societal problems that allowed this horrid incident to occur. Many of us feel inclined, even obligated, to use the incident as an opportunity to make our argument.

I would wager that just as many of us would do more good by refraining, exercising caution in our words, and finding other ways to help.

I am not suggesting it is inappropriate to have serious discussions about the factors that led to the incident. I don’t mean to say we ought not promote cultural or political changes that might prevent it from happening again. On the contrary, I think we all know that there are problems here, likely many, that need to be discussed. But our preoccupation with fixing problems may distract us from another vitally important task that lies before us: healing.

Forty-nine lives were lost, which means that thousands of Americans are reeling from the loss of a sibling, child, cousin, niece or nephew, relative, friend, mentor, or acquaintance. We are a country in mourning. We are a country in trauma. To the extent that we can help our fellow man heal from the trauma of this disaster, we ought to do so. And I hate to break it to you, but a lecture on the problems with or value of the Second Amendment probably doesn't help in this endeavor.

Allow me to use an example. If you had a friend who lost a sibling or parent to alcoholism, would your first move be to send them an article about the problems with alcohol sale legislation and enforcement and circulate it throughout the neighborhood? I hope not. I hope you would hug your friend, listen to them, and offer to help them in any way you can. It is not that the article doesn’t provide some useful information. On the contrary, it likely does, and may eventually prove helpful. But unless the hurting party specifically asks for it, it is probably not what he needs right now. In fact, forcing it upon him may make an already traumatic situation more traumatic. Not only that, but by satisfying your compulsion to educate your friend, you are missing out on an opportunity to help him heal and to experience compassion.

That is the reality of the situation we have here. Our fellow Americans are in pain, and we have an opportunity to help them heal. We ought to seek to empathize with victims of this tragedy. We ought to help them find peace and closure in any way that we can—listening to them, offering a shoulder to cry on, a hand to hold, climbing down into the dark space they occupy if only to reassure them that they are not alone there. If not that, then other sources of aid such as food or financial support. 

Fortunately, countless people are taking this route, including the chain restaurant Chick-fil-A. The company’s owner is known to have moral objections to the homosexual lifestyle, but rather than choosing sides or making a political statement about the events, the restaurant provided food and beverages for the volunteers donating blood for victims of the massacre at a local blood bank in Orlando. We could all take a cue from Chick-fil-A. Even if you think your opinions are the best, this is a time when you should put another’s healing heart before your pride.

Truly, I am not suggesting that our opinions have no value. Certainly, civil discussion and action are needed on these issues. But we may in fact be more effective as a helping hand and listening ear than as self-appointed judges, juries, or legislators. We may affect more positive change through humble tasks and kind words than from atop our soap boxes.

Your opinions have value, but so does your heart. And in this case, the latter is needed much more. 

Photo: Getty Images