Sunday, January 16, 2011

Thoughts on the Tucson shooting rampage

It has been very strange and unsettling for me to watch the news lately, as they keep showing pictures of the Safeway in Tucson where the horrible shooting that claimed the lives of six people and wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords took place. I have been a little more heartsick than usual watching all of this, not only because of the tragedy of this event, but the familiarity of it.

You see, my mother lives down the road from that Safeway in Tucson, where my family has called home since the 1970s. I have gone shopping in it on many a Saturday morning. It is one of the safest and friendliest neighborhoods you could imagine, in a beautiful setting surrounded by the Santa Catalina mountains. I have always thought that if there was a paradise on earth, this place was close to it. And now, just like that, it has suddenly become a place of horror.

Since then, there has been no lack of opinions on what happened. We've been hearing this incident turn into a forum on political vitriol, the death penalty, and what Obama and Palin said - or should have said. And we keep going back and forth about whose fault this situation ultimately was or wasn't.

My opinion is that perhaps we shouldn't be so quick to have an opinion. I would love nothing better than to see an end to the partisan ranting that passes for entertainment on today's cable news channels. It would be great to put an end to the politics of division. And I would welcome seeing society respect its elected officials. But sadly, I don't think any of that would prevent incidents like this.

The shooter was, by all accounts, a good kid who slid over time into severe mental illness. Of course, some mentally ill people become politically overinvested. And a few take out their grievances, real or imaginary, on people in public. I myself had a scary incident years ago, after a radio appearance in Rochester on a book I had written on corporate culture, where an obviously unbalanced man pushed toward me at a book signing that night ranting about corporate America, yelling a few inches from my face and poking at me. Thankfully I was whisked away by store security posthaste.

But I also don't think the context ultimately matters that much. When I visited Japan years ago, for example, I read about a man committing a murder who claimed that Buddha made him do it. If we are really going to prevent tragedies like these in the future, we need to rethink how we deal with serious mental illness. Because we could heal every single political rift in the nation, and next week someone might get shot at Disneyland by someone who is obsessed with Goofy.

When a member of Congress lies critically wounded, and we watch the funerals of people like an innocent 9 year old girl, feelings run very strongly. And for me, this incident strikes close to home – my mother could have been in that store. (For today, I am glad she is a Republican.) But right now, it is simply time for America to mourn the dead, and resolve to do a better job of treating the mentally ill.

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