New Rules


Were you scared?” I asked her.

Well, maybe a little. But the good news is, I thought, is that I was in the computer room, which is waaaaaaaay at the back of the school, and I figured that if anyone got into the school, he probably wouldn’t get all the way back to us there, so we were probably fine.” 

She went on: “We hid under the computer tables, which was gross because people stick their gum under there. So we had to lie there and stare at old gum. So I pulled out a book and started to read so I wouldn’t have to stare at the gum.” 

And a little later: “My teacher didn’t get underneath anything though. She just kept walking around. Shouldn’t she be safe too?

I agreed with her that yes, her teacher should be safe too.

This is the conversation I had with my daughter recently, after her school experienced a lock down. The episode was brief: the lockdown was triggered not by anything dangerous happening at the school but by police activity in the neighborhood. It was a routine precautionary procedure, and was resolved quickly. However, the automatic text that went out to families only said: Lockdown at XX School. Receiving that text was anything but routine.

Tallulah is 12. When I was twelve, I was thinking about music, goofing around with my friends, and circling the clothes I liked in catalogues. I was not calculating the likelihood that I would get shot at school or picturing in my head what might happen to my teacher if she didn’t duck down under the tables with me, my classmates, and the old wads of gum.

I wish she didn’t have to think like that. I wish this were not normal for her. She was incredibly matter of fact when she was describing her predictions that a gunman wouldn’t make it to where she was huddled underneath the gum. That hurt a little to hear.

Sometimes, I feel a little hopeless about the gun debate in our country. It seems so obvious to me, a bleeding heart liberal, that the answer is gun control, but I know that for many conservatives the answer is more guns. It feels like never the twain shall meet, and we will only ever be angry with each other for not seeing the world the way we do. The problem with the gun debate is the same problem we are having with every policy debate: we cannot listen to the people on the other side. We demonize the people on the other side. That is what needs to stop.

I think we need a massive, communal reset, with new rules. Here are a few suggestions:
  • Don’t say anything mean about the people you disagree with.
  • Talk to people you disagree with. Ask a minimum of 10 questions to learn more about them personally and about why they hold certain views.
  • If you’ve never talked with someone on the other side of an opinion you hold strongly, see if you can change that.
  • If you have never met an immigrant, a Muslim, a rural voter, a gun rights enthusiast, a tax and spend liberal, a trickle down conservative, or anyone else you think of as “other,” if you’ve never tried to understand their point of view, put that on your bucket list instead of a trip to Bali. Or maybe in addition to.

What makes a difference in any person’s life? What makes a difference in yours? Relationships. Connection. Community. Expression. Being known. Those are the things that transform individual people, individual hearts. Those are the things that make us peaceful. That is where every policy debate needs to begin, with seeking community and connection. We may not agree (um…we definitely don’t agree). But we can still talk to each other, hear each other’s stories, and put ourselves in each other’s shoes. I think that’s what’s missing in our civic lives these days.

These are just random, somewhat weary thoughts as I think about the Tree of Life and the grocery store in Kentucky, and I worry about what is happening all around me. My daughter is safe, for now; but I’m scared that tomorrow, or the next day, or next year, she won’t be. I’m trying not to lose faith in this country, but it’s hard. 

Who wants to talk? Who wants to listen?

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