Empathy Not Apathy In the Wake of Las Vegas
The mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Harvest Festival hits a little closer to home emotionally for a music journalist, even though by all rights it shouldn’t hit harder than any other mass shooting.
I go to many concerts. Some are performed outside and some are performed inside. Many are rock shows, but some are pop, blues, and country shows. Regardless, each and every show I’ve been to has been a celebration of life. We as humans are uniquely gifted amongst the creatures on planet Earth as we have the capacity to make music not just for our survival, or mating purposes, or to signal to our tribe that we are near (although we do make music for these reasons as well), but because we simply want to. To create, play, and share music is to partake in the very act of being human and alive. To make a celebration of life a place of death is not only immoral, but inhuman.
Another unique trait that separates humanity from the animal kingdom, at its highest level, is our capacity for empathy. Now that yet another gathering that is so familiar to myself and many other music journalists and open air concert going fans has become a site of a mass shooting, the horror of the Orlando, Newtown, Aurora, Sacramento and countless other shootings is made even more real in our minds’ eyes. We might not have recent experience in nightclubs, elementary schools, or movie theatres. It might be harder to identify with an elementary school teacher or student, or a worker in a certain workplace, but someone who hasn’t worked and studied in such a location as Newtown or Sacramento recently in their lives, by way of identifying with the victims in Las Vegas, can now more fully identify with those who already relate to the victims in Newtown or Sacramento. Sometimes, full understanding and empathy doesn’t register as powerfully as it should within ourselves until something horrific happens in a place that is similar to your own particular, and familiar, stomping grounds. Sometimes incidents like overseas wars, mass casualty domestic shootings and the like don’t seem real. They seem like so much television or film fiction when seen through the letter boxed screens that serve for many of us as the only window through which we might ever see into a genocidal war in Africa or Europe or a mass shooting in an American elementary school.
Sadly though, as Americans, nearly all of us are now acquainted with the type of powerful empathy that binds us in the sorrow, if not the danger, that the victims of the many mass shootings that have occurred in America over the last few decades have endured. So many of them have happened in so many diverse places. Millions can relate personally to Newtown (teachers and elementary school children). Millions can relate personally to Blacksburg, Va. (college students and professors). Millions can relate personally to Fort Hood (domestic stationed military), and millions more can now relate personally to Las Vegas (open air concert goers, performers, and music journalists), as, again sadly, just a sample of those in America who now have an empathic understanding of the horror by way of familiarity. It is a terrible thing that so many Americans are now bound together in a stark empathy created by mass shootings. The only positive thing that can come of this is the asking, and attempting to answer, this question: What can and should we do with that shared empathy now?
It is abundantly clear that we are okay with the ready availability of semi and fully automatic weapons. The deaths of elementary school children did not even change that fact. Besides the American gun lobby and industry is just too powerful and too influential to allow for any common sense gun control measures to even be debated in public policy forums. The gun control debate is just not going to happen in the halls of American power in any significant way. In turn, we as a society have decided that these types of mass shootings are simply going to be a price we pay for living in an open and capital driven society. Frankly, the alternative to living in such is just as unthinkable. We cannot, and should not, simply erase the 2nd Amendment, although a revisitation of its original intent might be beneficial. So, engaging in yet another fruitless and impotent debate on common sense gun control is not where we need to direct the need to take action that our shared empathy drives. That is unless both sides of the debate are willing to take common sense step of actually listen to each other and make common sense compromises.
We can turn out, as thousands have, to donate blood, time, and support to those who are direct victims of these shootings. We can open up grass roots and ground level dialogues in our neighborhoods, towns, cities, and counties about gun violence safety awareness and active shooter protocols. We can stop putting our faith in do nothing and, even more dangerous, know nothing political figures who have no business holding public office.
We can step back from our petty political disputes and the ignorance inspired by for profit corporate news groups with hours of airtime to fill even when there is nothing new to report.
Overall, with so many Americans from so many walks of life who now are fully engaged in the problem of gun violence in our country through their empathy there has to be enough well meaning, intelligent, and compassionate citizens who can band together, again across all cultural divides through their shared empathy with of victims of gun violence to come up with solutions. This music journalist is willing to engage with this problem due to his new personal empathy. Are you?