When Murder Isn't News
Updated: Feb 28, 2018
I still remember the day in 1999 when our country stopped. News was unfolding of the Columbine massacre where 13 people were gunned down in cold blooded murder at a school. Americans were in shock to learn that the killers weren't terrorists or armed men, but students that the slain had walked by in the halls, sat beside in the lunchroom and studied with in the classroom. This memory was etched in our minds for those of us who stood watching the terror on our televisions.
Nineteen years later and we've seen an epidemic of random and mass murders in America, including 25 fatal school shootings. We've seen everything from 20 elementary children and 6 adults killed in Sandy Hook, to 12 killed at a movie theater of a Batman showing, to people being sprayed with bullets in Las Vegas, to the most recent shooting at a Florida school where 17 people were killed. The killings go on and on and on....
And the battles and blaming rage on and on and on....
As I dropped my fifteen-year-old daughter off at a school the other day she looked at me casually as we saw two police cars in the parking lot and said, "Yeah, they were checking all of our backpacks yesterday cause somebody was making threats on social media that they were going to shoot people at school today." Unwavering she kissed me on the cheek, "Bye mom, love ya."
Her casual response made me realize that to this next generation murder isn't news. They've grown up with this reality. It's their world's norm. My heart hurt not only for those who most recently lost their loved ones in the Florida shooting, but it hurt to know that we have become a society that's okay with being sick. We seem to no longer want to prevent the disease. We just want to treat the symptoms, that in some cases the outcome of the treatment seems worse than the original problem we were treating.
We need to look no further than the pill mill commercials with their barrage of side effects to see this - "may cause benign but dangerous liver tumors... flatulence and vomiting... inability to control bowel movements... crying spells... hallucinations.... thoughts of suicide or hurting yourself... coma... asthma related death..." These are real side effects for treating everything from acne to an anti-smoking aide to a weight loss pill.
I don't know, but wouldn't it have been better to maybe just start exercising and eating healthy? But in our society we have a pill and a "quick fix" for everything. However, we are failing to get to root of the problem. That takes time and it gets messy. But it's possible.
How do I know? Because I've seen it in some of the most hardened criminals that I've worked with in prison. I've had heart to heart conversations with murderers, drug dealers and gang leaders; and what I've found time and time again is that underneath all of the violence and social havoc they've wreaked on society is hurting, broken, lost and lonely men who want to be accepted, loved and live for a purpose.
I've received the letters and heard the testimonies of these men telling me, "You've restored my faith in humanity....you are saving us men...you gave me hope again". I even had one man tell me the words in my book stopped him from an avenge killing of the man who murdered his brother.
These testimonies made me realize that words are powerful. Life and death is in the power of our tongues. So we must begin to ask ourselves, what are we doing with our tongues? Are we speaking life or death into people? Are we looking to draw out the good in people or are we finger pointing and magnifying the bad?
No matter the crime that the man who stands in front of me in prison has committed I approach them as if they have a clean slate. I look at them and seek out the original intent for which they were created on this earth. They have a purpose as to why they are here on earth. Regardless of whether they ever accept that and fulfill it is not my responsibility.
However, it is my responsibility as a human being in a civilized society to always strive to find the good in each man and woman that I cross paths with and hopefully leave them better than when we first met.
But these kinds of encounters where we leave people better and more hopeful require us to give of our time, our conversation, our heart, our hugs, our smiles and our ability to listen without judgment. And in a Facebook and Twitter world where "conversations" have been reduced to 240 characters (not even words) it doesn't necessarily lend itself to engaging, caring encounters where we leave people feeling understood and cared about.
This lack of real concern creates a vacuum in people's souls where people become isolated, depressed, lonely, angry, misunderstood, bitter and then they explode one day on society!
Then after it happens the talking heads begin their spiel, the news media shows footage of the bloody massacre, fear and anxiety increases, people blame the parents, people blame law enforcement for not stopping it, the battle on guns rages on, we reduce the killers to simplistic terms such as "monsters" and "mentally ill" and the killing continues on.
But we never stop to consider that maybe there's a deeper problem occurring, but not one without a much simpler solution. Maybe the real problem lies within us. We've become so busy and distracted with things that don't really matter and have failed to realize that the most important thing here is people.
Imagine spending your whole life training for a race. The day finally arrives. You've made it to the Olympics. Your heart races as you are crouched in the starting blocks. The gun fires and the race begins. You run the race of your life. Not only do you break your personal record, but you set the world record. You have won the gold medal. You look in the stands and they are empty. What does it all mean? If we don't make it about people what are we doing here?
My question to America is this - are we willing to do what it takes to bring about real change? Or do we just want to keep blaming other people when tragedies happen? Real change takes work, but it's not as hard as we think. It takes time, but not as much time as it takes to clean up the messes that result when we don't put in the time we should have put in to begin with to prevent them.
How many of us are the answers to prevent these types of tragedies from happening simply by taking more time out of our day to have meaningful conversations with people? Your words and your actions do make a difference. Your kindness, your smile, your encouragement, and just your ability to listen to someone who is hurting can stop someone from making a choice they'll regret for the rest of their life and will bring hurt to other people.
I know because I've seen it first hand. That letter from that man who told me my book prevented him from killing another man let me know the power our words have to change the course of people's lives.
So, my question to you is, what are you doing with your words? Are you speaking life or death?