By Rich Harwood
Our national fortitude and belief in ourselves are being tested once more. The massacre in Orlando defies explanation and plainly reminds us that evil exists. It also raises important questions: How does the Orlando community now find a way to pick itself up after such a horrific incident has knocked it down? And what is our response as a nation?
This shooting is yet another defining moment in our country’s history—along with similar tragedies that have occurred in places such as Columbine, Virginia Tech and, more recently, San Bernardino. In the last 30 months alone, mass shooters have murdered at least 1,105 people and wounded nearly 4,000 people.
Such acts need not define us as a nation. But they do test our resolve. And we have a choice as to how we move forward.
There are those political leaders in the midst of the carnage, who are already seeking personal and political gain—before the dead have been identified, and their next of kin notified.
There are those who are already using this occasion to pass judgment on the sexual orientation of those who were murdered, or somehow avoid mentioning it at all.
There are those who are already rushing to judgment about what precipitated this event so as to advance their own pre-fixed agendas, without leaving room for the facts to emerge.
When our nation is visited by such acts of hate and terror, fear ripples throughout media coverage and daily conversations and the world around us can seem immeasurably unsafe, unsound and unreliable.
The choice before us as a nation—and as individuals—is will we continue down this path, or will we pursue an alternate path of possibility and hope. I know we can choose the latter path.
I have worked in many communities traumatized by all sorts of shocks, from massive job layoffs to mass shootings. One such place was Newtown, CT, where a 19 year old gunman named Adam Lanza took the lives of 20 first-graders and six adults.
There, I helped the community decide what to do with the Sandy Hook Elementary School and make an all-important pivot from trauma and despair to healing and hope. More than anything I did personally, I learned first-hand from the good and brave people of Newtown what it means to stand back up and put one foot in front of the other despite untenable pain and raw anger.
In Newtown, a special task force of 28 elected leaders was created to make the decision about the school’s future and that of the community. I remember at the last of our meetings, one task force member said that, upon reflection, she had come to a basic but profound belief: “We must move forward as best we can.” Indeed there is no perfect solution for an imperfect situation.
What the people of Newtown demonstrated time and again—as I believe the people of Orlando will also show—was a willingness to listen to different points of view about how to move forward. They showed a deep compassion for one another, even as they wrestled with competing ideas about what to do. And they mustered a collective sense that they were all in the same boat.
Amid the tragedy in Orlando, will we, as Americans, join together in the same boat? Will we debate the issues at hand with a sense of compassion, especially for those with differing views? Will we afford people who may be different from ourselves the dignity they deserve?
There will be a robust debate in the days ahead—as there should be. Our differences on how to address this tragedy are real and we shouldn’t gloss over them. But that does not mean that the debate must be riddled by gratuitous divisiveness and acrimony. Nor that political posturing and pontificating should rule the day.
The nation’s fortitude and belief in itself now face a test. If we truly yearn for Orlando to heal, then let’s stand united with Orlando. This will require that we engage productively and exercise human love. Nothing less will do.