“My thoughts and prayers are with you” is a phrase in the air constantly whenever (pretty often these past few years) there is a horrible big event ranging from mass shootings in schools and elsewhere to wildfires and floods. But how much change occurs as the result of the expression?
Pretty much none, at least when the words come from the lips of major politicians and law makers.
Most of us, nevertheless, are not that lip service only type of politician and we are in a place where we can afford to put a little effort — and even changes in our thoughts and actions — into personal responses to what fills today’s news — another mass shooting, this time in an upscale Florida school where seventeen people died.
As a Baha’i I say prayers at least twice a day, and give thought to the meaning of these prayers, intention as to where they are directed. And what I should be doing when the prayers are finished. For instance, if I am praying for a good recovery from my recent broken hip, I might decide on a specific action to take this day to promote healing.
My belief that answers to prayers come through action stems from perusal of many Baha’i writings, including this one from Shoghi Effendi, the late Guardian of the Faith:
“… It is not sufficient to pray diligently for guidance, but this prayer must be followed by meditation as to the best methods of action and then action itself. Even if the action should not immediately produce results, or perhaps not be entirely correct, that does not make so much difference, because prayers can only be answered through action and if someone’s action is wrong, God can use that method of showing the pathway which is right.”
(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, August 22, 1957)
Yet when I say prayers about gun violence and the forces that go into perpetuating the causes of it my mind can boggle. The immensity of it, the divisive forces present in the USA (and far beyond its borders), the various interpretations of the second Amendment to the Constitution by the Supreme Court and other judicial entities over the last several centuries. I’ve never owned a gun, don’t intend to — but that’s hardly a factor. My personal choice is unlikely to affect anybody else. No — what I do have are my thoughts and actions, the conviction that such widespread, inadequately regulated proliferations of all kinds of guns is not a good thing for the general populace when somebody works out an anger issue with an assault gun in a school, nightclub, theatre or concert.
Holding to this conviction a person can vote conscientiously and hope some of the candidates will stand up for increased gun control. Far more often one can be on the watch for conversations where guns are the topic, ready to present what thoughts are appropriate (wise) at the time. One can become aware of people around them who seem to be in mental distress, find a way to speak up about the situation.
In the early days of my fifth “career phases” — call centers — I received two phone calls that involved guns. The first was not quite the mental dilemma that the second was. A man called with a minor question, which I answered quickly, yet it did not feel right to end the call swiftly. There was something about his voice that caught my attention. With almost no encouragement from me (our calls were monitored for wasting time on non-company matters) he poured out a sad story of how he had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, how his wife couldn’t cope with that and so left him. As a longtime handicapped person myself, I could and did say a few things that gave him something to think about, at least. Before he hung up he said, “You know, when I called I was sitting here with my gun in my hand, intending to blow my brains out in a few minutes. Now I don’t want to do that any more, I don’t feel so alone. Thank you.” Or something close to that.
The second, not long after this one, was a fellow whose wife had also recently left him, and his voice was filled with self-pity and… rage. We got off on quite a few tangents, since I was rather poor at following company guidelines about sticking to the subject at all times. After all, we had protocols as to actions needing taken for bomb threats either to the company or some larger target (we did get a few such calls) and even threats against the President or other public figures. A bit of active listening seemed appropriate. So when this man said that he felt “like taking a gun tomorrow morning and shooting up a post office” I did report that. I spoke with him for quite a while. My gut feeling was that he was just blowing off steam, but hey, my gut might be wrong. The next few days brought no news of any shootings in the area where he lived, thank heaven. I never knew what happened as a result of somebody reporting the situation.
My point is only: To be aware of those around who may need a listening ear or a firm grip on the collar, to be ready to speak or in some manner to address what seems to need addressing — to not heave a sigh and think nothing more than “None of my business”.
Any group of people who make a point of being tuned into what goes on around them, among them, not succumbing to the saying of Irish political philosopher Edmund Burke that “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” — that group of people will make a difference in gun violence.
Words are more powerful than swords. Use them wisely.