“The world is full of suffering, it is also full of overcoming it.” Helen Keller

Before this week I, like most people in the world, had never heard of Newtown, Connecticut  The lives of the teachers, students and parents of Sandy Hook Elementary School had no special significance beyond their immediate family circles.  I wish that were still the case.

I imagine that the atmosphere at Sandy Hook during the final lead up to the Christmas holidays was the same mix of excitement, enthusiasm and anticipation as in schools all over the world.  Anyone who has worked in schools would have felt at home.

No more.  Henceforth, the name ‘Sandy Hook’ will be a short-hand prompt for despair and outrage.  Each of us will feel the guilty conflict between our horror at the realisation that it could so easily have happened in our own community, and an awful feeling of guilty thankfulness that it did not.

When faced with a natural disaster such as famine, flooding or earthquake, we know how to respond:  we try to mobilise resources and send help;  we contribute to the Red Cross; we hold collections for blankets, food, clothing, or simply money.  But this week there is no help we can send; there is no outside support we can offer.  There is simply a school community that has been devastated because of a personal narrative that turned violent, and in which they have played no part except that of victims.

However, though we cannot offer help, we are not helpless.

We have been told that right now is not the time to debate the issue of gun control, and it is a safe assumption that the gun lobby will soon move into high gear to argue that the easy availability of firearms had no direct bearing on this tragedy.  We will also hear the usual defence of personal liberties and constitutional protection of the right to bear arms.  In addition, non-Americans like me will be told that this is a domestic debate in which we have no legitimate voice.

My response is that I claim a voice because I have worked in schools; I claim a voice because I know and have taught American children;  I claim a voice because I have enough working brain cells to recognise that the correlation between easy gun ownership and sky-high levels of gun crime is not a coincidence, and that a constitution written two hundred years ago for a society in which the survival of the nation was under threat may not provide a perfect blueprint for today;  I claim a voice because I view what happened at Sandy Hook in the same way I view apartheid, or the suppression of free speech, or the oppression of women, or the exploitation of children, i.e. as a violation of the standards to which the human race should aspire.

President Obama has promised ‘meaningful action’.  I hope that my voice will be added to the voices of millions around the world, rising to a deafening volume that cannot be ignored, and that will strengthen his resolve to prevail against those who will want to resist any action.  The US claims the right to exert influence beyond its borders in support of human rights, and when it considers a government is failing to protect its people.  It is time for them to hear that the rest of the humanity claims the reciprocal right.

7 thoughts on ““The world is full of suffering, it is also full of overcoming it.” Helen Keller

    • I don’t want to be overly optimistic, Jeanne, but there does seem to be a growing groundswell of opinion demanding action. Thankfully, the case seems to be helped every time an NRA man (they are nearly always men) opens his mouth.

  1. Michael: you said it all so perfectly. You expressed it all for me too..Now let’s get your words out to the public..we have to educate..we have to get them thinking..How can we get your word out and particularly south of our border..hmm?..I would love to see you just send it out to newspapers..and politicians..see what happens..can’t hurt..what do you think? that could be a project for you..send send send..and hopefully you will hit some that don’t “get it”..no capitals but I feel like it..the world needs more people to speak out..so many are in the silent majority league..thanks for this..

  2. I agree with everything Michael is saying and he expressed it so eloquently. I also can not stop reflecting on what needs to change in society, our communities and our schools. How can a young person of 20 years old be so disconnected that he can pick up a gun kill his mother and then kill 26 innocent people. Where was the thought in him of how his actions would effect the lives of others? Why was there no one he could go and talk to if he was feeling so desperate? I think we need to look at what is happening in society that people can even contemplate such an act !

  3. I agree. Even gun were there effective gun control that would only serve to limit the potential harm to others. It would do nothing to address the underlying problems that give rise to such impulses.

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