As a psychologist, I was always taught not to pick sides. Impartiality is one of the tenets of my profession. I must admit now, to myself and publicly, that I no longer find that impartiality possible to maintain if I am to respect myself as a human being. Looking around, I see and feel, as suggested by the title I chose for this piece, dark and light elements of our present human condition.
One of the most visceral expressions – to me, anyway – of this condition can be found in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD) shooting and the story that has been coming from it. Those of you who are reading this outside my native South Florida cannot, because of geography, take part in some of the things I’ve experienced, but hopefully, my native perspective will lend some credibility to my writing.
I first learned of the shooting from the father of one of my patients, a 15-year-old boy on the autistic spectrum. His Dad came in for their 4:00 family session and informed me that his son was unable to make it because his school, about a block away from Stoneman Douglas, was on lockdown. No one was going anywhere
Later that night, I spoke with a good friend, who was shattered. He told me that the granddaughter of one of his close friends had been shot to death at MSD that day.
A few days later, I was contacted by a law firm that was sponsoring a “healing” town hall meeting at a hotel in Parkland, near MSD. I was asked to speak about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from the vantage point of my profession. I agreed to do so and encountered many distraught people at the town hall meeting. A number of them – parents and children who had witnessed the shooting – tearfully broke down while asking questions. The emotional intensity of the shooting was still quite evidently raw and very much in the room. I felt good about doing the event and have so far gotten several new patients connected to that town hall and the shooting. My own emotions are empathically raw with these victims of insane violence. The work, however, is deeply gratifying.
Imagine my response, then, when I became aware of accusations regarding the legitimacy of the MSD protesters. Seeing them accused of being actors to help erode our country’s gun laws made me sick. It made me angry to read about them being called liars by people who have never met them. And finding out that the relative of one of my patients who has played an active role in the media coverage of the event is currently living under a death threat frightened me. We are witnessing good people, victims of an unspeakable crime, being deprived of their integrity and legitimacy in the service of keeping America’s gun laws as they are.
There are most likely some wonderful NRA members and there are certainly many people on the conservative side of things politically – George Will and John McCain immediately come to mind – who are living lives worthy of our ongoing respect. But there is a violent, dishonest and paranoid aspect of our culture that must be recognized for its darkness and met with compassionate resistance. While my profession may have warned me against taking sides, to see people I know to be genuine victims accused of being fake in order to maintain gun laws exactly as they are makes that impossible for me. When we knowingly confront the darkness in the world, we must, to the best of our abilities, meet it with light. Hold fast to your truth and live out of it. It’s the only way of responding to evil.