What Can We Learn From This? What if the answer is “Nothing?”

We’re human. We struggle with tragedy. We grasp at slippery straws and they slip through our fingers. We hash over it. We re-hash. We hash again. We reach out to those in need and we send our prayers when we don’t pray, our thoughts to the unthinkable and we process that which does not compute.

It’s natural. It’s human. Our brains are wired for empathy. We respond to social and environmental cues and it’s hard not to be moved. But then we always ask ourselves what the life lesson is. What’s the moral of the story? How can we prevent this in the future?

And we run through all the potential factors to try and find the most direct correlation to what went so notoriously haywire.

We blame guns. We blame parents. We blame music and movies. We blame victims. We blame genetics. We blame the environment. The economy. The political climate. My GAWD to we love to blame. Because somewhere, somehow, there must be an underlying cause. There must be a way to rectify a tragedy, an injustice, a crime against not just the dead but of humanity as a whole.

But the answers aren’t so simple. Congrats, CNN, for ruling out terrorism. Because terrorism can’t possibly be committed by someone who has no known ties to a terrorist cell. I have two words for you: Tim McVeigh.

Congrats, Darren Rovell, for saying it’s the responsibility of those who know of troubled individuals to force the afflicted to receive help. Should we hold them culpable as an accessory? Most folks can’t be bothered with the afflicted: either because the unstable are too far gone and those close to them suffer from learned helplessness, or because most rational people try to distance themselves from the toxic individuals who pervade our society.

There will be calls for gun detectors in movie theatres everywhere. There will be calls for ends to midnight premieres of movies. These are first-world luxuries, sure, that we Americans are accustomed to: Our privilege to receive our entertainment in public forums without fear of losing our lives. But, as a wise man once said, “No delicate way to say it, but the terror ppl are now feeling about going to the movies is the terror some ppl in the world feel EVERY DAY.” It’s true. America in 2012, at least, in the nice areas, is a relatively safe place. *(I’m curious to see how blame would be shifted if the assailant was, let’s just say, Hispanic or Black. I’ll bet we’d hear someone make lazy ties to “hip-hop” and “gang” culture.)

Fact is, everything, from the guns to the chemical makeup of the individual to their social circles to the books they read to the time of day and year and their day job … it all plays a role. But to ask ourselves, “How do we prevent this?” Is a futile quest. Because statistical outliers like someone walking into a movie theatre with tear gas, riot gear and a bevy of ammo just isn’t something we “prevent.” Nor is it something we can blame anyone for. Not the parents, not the victims, not the theatre. Nothing. It’s too complex. It’s too nuanced. There’s too much noise in the signal.

We are so, SO lucky to live in an advanced society (some would argue we’re in disarray, and on some points I agree, but that’s immaterial to this discussion) where, for the most part, violence on a mass scale is rare, when compared to other parts of the world and at other various points in our past. We’re lucky we’re not more primitive mammals, who fight to the death over the chance to eat and mate.

But, as I said on Twitter, if you’re out here trying to figure out, “How did we let this happen?” “Who can we blame?” “What can we learn?” You’re approaching tragedy from behind. You mourn. You offer condolences to those who need them. And then, what you do, is you examine yourself.

You examine yourself, and you ask yourself, “Am I doing this right? Is my life making my world better?” And if your answer is “No,” then you figure out next steps from there. Ask yourself how you can improve. Ask yourself how you can maximize the finite yet indefinite number of hours you have left for the benefit of yourself, the people who care about you, and the society as a whole. Find your passion. Live your passion.

Tragedy’s unspeakable, it’s insane, it’s too complex and sad and third-rail for words. It’s why we never know what to say in death to those who’ve felt the sting of loss.

But life, the great dance, the beautiful parade that is life – that boundless gift that keeps on living as long as you’ve got breaths left on your watch: that’s worth sharing. That’s worth doing. That’s worth living and all the risk-taking and love and failures and adventures in the world, caution be damned. That’s worth every hand lent to someone else, every silent pact you make with yourself and every yawn-filled day at work because you spent the night before engaged in a late night conversation with a friend of yours who needed you.

It’s not a just world. There is no karma. But there is impact. And what you do, whether you know it or not, makes a gigantic impact on the world around you. Rationalizing and hypothesizing theories on how tragedies can be prevented, arguing over gun laws and trying to assign blame on SOMETHING, for the sake of feeling some selfish semblance of “resolution” is futile. Measures taken to ensure the safety of a populace should be done proactively, logically and without emotional bias devolving the entire dialogue into a chorus of screaming, crying pundits with agendas.

This is life. We are human. By biological definition, we can never be perfect or be all-knowing. We can fix little things, and we can improve many things, but we cannot outright stop what happened in Aurora from happening again.

What we can do is live. And live the right way. And if each of us does that, my guess is some lives – whether we know it or not – will be saved. And that means – again, whether we know it or not – less tragedy we’ll be forced to rack our brains over like we’re calculating the square root of the infinite.


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