In the wake of the devastating grade school shooting in Newtown, Conn., Americans are angry -- rightfully so -- and many will use this occasion to share their feelings on gun control, school security, parenting styles and more. Times of tragedy seem to bring out the rant in all of us, but regardless of which side of the gun control conversation you're on, or in which corner you sit on metal detectors in grade schools, I think we can all agree there is much more to the events in Newtown, Aurora, and the rest of the shamefully long list of mass shooting locations than simply the weapons used to carry them out.
There is something we can do at home, at work, on the road and online that can keep down the furious feelings that bubble up to become tragedies like this -- we can simply listen. The heart of the matter is not how the Newtown shooter got the gun, or how poorly he must have been parented, but rather what would make him -- or anyone -- feel the need to do something like this?
My guess is he never felt listened to -- by his parents, his siblings, his teachers, his peers, his colleagues, society, the Internet -- the list goes on. While I'm sure the investigation will reveal an element of mental instability, there are many people with major and minor mental disturbances who do not shoot up grade schools, movie theaters or houses of worship. I'm guessing that at some point, those people felt they had a safe place to share their feelings, vent their frustrations, see the nodding heads of those in front of them (or even in an online chat room) and say to themselves, "Someone hears me."
You may not agree with what your friends, neighbors or coworkers say, but the least you can do is show them the decency of listening to their opinions and ideas with closed lips and an open mind. This is a small, meaningful action we all can take -- today. Freedom of speech is a beautiful thing, and an open set of ears is its perfect mate. If our fellow citizens continue to feel unheard and not valued, we may all lose freedoms our founding members earned for us, and perhaps even more innocent lives.
As you hug the children in your life tighter and roll up your sleeves to fight for whichever side of the debate you're on, take a moment to listen to the people you encounter, and let them know their voice can be the most powerful weapon of all.