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Fear, Anger, and the Need for Dialogue

June 14, 2016

We are all afraid.

This past Sunday in Orlando, Florida.  So many levels of horror that I cannot read about it or listen to news reports of it. I have the privilege to process this pain in small bits so I don’t sink under its weight.

Horror for the LGBTQ community who always has much to fear due to the still-rampant homophobia.

Horror for the Muslim community, who fears backlash every time someone kills in the name of their religion.

Horror for anyone who is an innocent bystander–by which I mean all of the rest of us.

We are profoundly sad.  And angry.  And afraid.

But we don’t ask each other those questions:  What are we afraid of?

Instead, we turn to the echo chamber that is social media and express grief, yes, and outrage–but outrage turns into screaming: either at the choir who responds, “AMEN!” or at the “other.”  In this case, the “other” is whoever is on the opposite side of the gun control issue from you.

Anger is a powerful tool–helpful when it leads to strategic action.

Anger is unhelpful when it leads us to treat as The Enemy our friends and family members who happen to disagree with us over public policy.

I did this stereotyping activity with my students a while ago from the Public Conversations Project:

“As a ________, I think that I am viewed by _______ as having these characteristics, beliefs, or intentions: _____________.”

Their responses were honest, sometimes funny, often profound.  If I could sit with my family members and have the same conversation, mine would look like this:

As a person who supports gun control, I think that I am viewed by gun control opponents as:

  • wanting to take away everyone’s guns.
  • ignorant of or disrespectful of Constitutional law.
  • seeing gun owners as evil.
  • naive and believing that stricter gun control will eliminate gun violence.
  • hating America.
  • a bleeding-heart liberal and an impractical idiot.

None of these is true.

I believe the rights established in the Constitution come with responsibilities and limitations.  I know responsible gun owners and members of the NRA.  They are good people who want to keep themselves and their children safe just as much as I do.  I believe we need to follow Australia’s and Germany’s and the UK’s examples to make it harder–it will never be impossible–for individuals to amass assault weapons designed for military use.  (See this article from the non-partisan Council on Foreign Relations for more info on how the U.S. compares to other countries.)

I want to know what my family member and friends who oppose gun control fear.  I want to know why they are angry.  Memes and snarky sound bites don’t help me understand anything.

Dialogue needs trust.  Trust takes both time and willingness.  My perception is that many people who support or oppose gun control are unwilling to engage in actual dialogue (as in deeply listening to and respecting a person’s experiences and viewpoints, even as you present and support your own).

Prove me wrong.

Screaming at each other means that we’re taking our angry energy out on the wrong people.  The real enemy?  Those who want to divide us.  Those who want conflict.  Those who know that while we spend time throwing a Facebook or Twitter tantrum, they are winning.  They are keeping us in fear.

We should be angry.  We need to react.  Intentionally and thoughtfully, with goals in mind.

Not engaging in social media fights (which I just did yesterday, even though I totally know better).

Not only surrounding ourselves with those who agree with us.

We can–we MUST–work together to defend ourselves.  Those who want to keep us in fear for their own gain will exploit any vulnerability we have.

Otherwise, it’s not a question of if this will happen to you or those you love, but when.

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