12/15/2012 12:07 pm ET Updated Feb 14, 2013

A Way Forward After Newtown

On December 14, 2012, the lives of 20 beautiful, innocent young children and six adults were tragically ended in a shocking act of brutal violence at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Earlier that week, two people were fatally shot when a gunman opened fire in a crowded shopping mall in suburban Portland, Ore. The victims left us with their stories only partially written and their destinies unfulfilled. Our hearts ache for these 28 innocent people and for every other innocent victim of confused and misguided violence that will suffer or die today, or any day -- in the U.S. or in other parts of the world. All of these beautiful souls deserved to tell their stories, fulfill their destinies, and share their gifts with others.

Although an entire nation is in mourning and millions of people around the world are now grieving with us, this tragedy will eventually disappear from the headlines, and it may fade from our collective psyche. The families of these victims and the community of Newtown, however, will have a long and arduous healing process that will span many long, painful months and years. It will be our responsibility to ensure that finding solutions to gun violence remains part of the national conversation during the months and years ahead.

These two horrific tragedies join a growing list of gun-related atrocities that have taken place during the past few years in Auora, Colo., Oak Creek, Wis., and Tucson Ariz. In addition to these high-profile incidents, cities across the country -- from New Orleans to Baltimore, and Chicago to Philadelphia -- are suffering from gun-violence epidemics. Of the 12,664 murders reported by the FBI in 2011, 8,583 of them were due to firearms. These staggering statistics should compel us to demand urgent legislative action that addresses the root causes of these tragedies. It is clear that more effective enforcement of existing gun laws and new gun control measures are needed. However, we must also be aware of the deeper, more disturbing suffering produced by the following: passive indifference to unjust violence, the decline in civic and community engagement, toxic popular culture and entertainment, social isolation, uninformed consumerism, uncritical militarism, and fear-based divisiveness.

If we wish to truly decrease senseless, unjust violence, we can begin by learning more about the suffering that people endure everyday through individual acts of violence and structural violence, and by investigating how our life choices may increase or decrease that suffering. In order to build a more just, harmonious, and peaceful society, we must cultivate bonds of inclusion, understanding, and ultimately -- love. If those bonds are to form, citizens will need healthy spaces for creative expression and institutions committed fostering civic engagement and community empowerment. It is through our bonds with one another that we are able to share our gifts and recognize our inevitable interconnections, common hopes, dreams, and destinies. If we actively seek to build more of these common bonds, then we may begin to think twice about perpetrating unjust violence, or passively accepting it.