I remember the day when the shooting at Columbine happened well. It was my first year in law school and a girl with red hair whose name I can't remember but whose face I'll always remember came into the library where I was studying with a bunch of other people. She told us there was a high school shooting going on in Colorado. I didn't even fully understand what she was saying there in the library; I'd never heard about anything like that before. It wasn't until I got home in front of my own tv screen that I began to understand and feel the heartbreaking gravity of the situation.
Now, almost 19 years later, scenes like the ones from that day in 1999 have become commonplace.
Jack Johnson lists off a number of people and groups that could be blamed when a shooting happens in his song, Cookie Jar:
A verse could certainly be added for the NRA that consistently blocks gun reform, the politicians that don't support changes in our gun laws that might help keep guns out of the hands of minors or the mentally ill, the makers of automatic weapons, or even the makers of video games that give people the opportunity to experience and even practice these horrific acts.
But, even with these and more added to the list of what we can blame for why this keeps happening, the wisdom I've most resonated with in this song is this:
"It was you; it was me; it was every man. We've all got the blood on our hands."
As much as we can justifiably point fingers when something horrible happens, that assignment of blame doesn't seem to make anything better.
Some will say that the blame helps us by: getting important questions answered so we understand what happened, putting dangerous people into police custody, and causing security measures to be increased in ways that save lives. I can agree that these things may have an impact in some incremental way, and if all the people and things we could blame would change, there might be a significant impact.
I just feel that none of those things addresses the heart of the matter in a way that will keep these horrible tragedies from happening and even escalating. As I see it, the blame that we throw around is actually a potent ammunition that we keep pouring into the dynamic that fuels these violent acts.
The only thing that will bring real change is: if we can influence the intention that is behind the violence; if the hearts and minds of people who may be feeling similarly isolated and moved to commit horrific acts violence can be reached; if there is an environment of love and openness that allows these people to feel able to reach out for the help and support they need to heal.
Blame comes from a view that we are separate actors with easily sectioned off responsibility, and yet, that isn't reality. In fact, we are all connected. Some words we speak to a stranger at the drug store can have a ripple effect that travels through so many people and stretches far and wide. We are each an important part of what happens in our world - both beautiful and tragic. Even if only in quite subtle ways, we all play a role in holding up the environment in which these violent tragedies occur.
And when we look at all the insults and anger thrown around in our public dialogue, we can begin to see how the escalating mass violence is actually a reflection of other behaviors that have become commonplace. The way we carry on a discussion with someone we disagree with isn't actually happening in a vacuum. The way we send nasty messages out to tons of followers isn't just some insignificant action of venting anger.
These actions we take, often quite thoughtlessly, are all connected to the whole. They are those rippling energies that we're sending out into an already volatile system. They are the ways that many of us have the blood on our hands for terrible things that happen in the world, even though the full chain of cause and effect cannot be traced.
Seeing the blood on our hands need not induce guilt or shame; it can empower us.
We can stop believing in this immature and illusory dichotomy that the world is split up into perpetrators and victims. We can embrace the reality that from situation to situation, perspective to perspective, we are all both perpetrators and victims, and so much more.
We are also powerful creators. When we are really open to seeing where we feed into the realities that we hope to shift, we can claim our greatest power to create the changes we want to see in our world. On the other side of blame, we might just be able to create the world that days like yesterday make us crave.