Mass shootings in the United States have risen so fast – threefold since 2011 – that it might be easy to feel numb over yet one more, such as the killing of 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif. Yet as overwhelmed as Americans feel by this tsunami of suffering and sorrow, their reactions still reveal the opposite. In their hashtags and prayers, and in their flower memorials and fierce debates over how to prevent another massacre, a common thread has emerged. It is a public protest of the power of good over evil.
The protest usually starts with a demand to know the “why,” or the reason for a killing. Mental illness, hate, ideology, or simply a grudge? This desire to understand the motive is really a cry of hope. It reveals a faith in our ability to teach people to act with kindness instead of violent malice. Ever since Columbine in 1999, Virginia Tech in 2007, and Sandy Hook in 2012, for example, schools are more alert to helping troubled students.
The protest then continues with an outpouring of compassion for the victims and their families. By honoring the victims, consoling the bereaved, and praising security officers, Americans lift up the good. This helps lessen submission to the certainty of evil. Virginia Tech, for example, converted the scene of its mass shooting into a center for peace studies and violence prevention. After the killings in Newtown, Conn., gardens and playgrounds were dedicated to the children killed. “Evil only wins if we allow it to,” said a mother of one slain girl.
Or as President Obama said after the Boston Marathon bombings, “In the face of those who would visit death upon innocents, we will choose to save and to comfort and to heal. We’ll choose friendship. We’ll choose love.”
Finally, this chain of protest focuses on finding a consensus for collective solutions, such as improved gun laws, better mental-health services, or more-secure public spaces. While the debate over an issue like gun rights can seem endless, it reflects a determination that we can unite in mutual desire to care for one another in the face of killers who try to deny that affinity. As long as Americans still listen to each other with humility in these debates, they will eventually find the needed solutions.