My wife and I were driving on a road trip when we first heard the news about what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, CT.
As the news came in over the radio, I realized there isn't a word in the English language that adequately describes the level of evilness that causes someone to execute small children. Either we have to create a new word that means something worse than evil, or we have to stop using it for anything else.
From hundreds of miles away and only connected to the reality by media reports, just the mere awareness of such a Godless act produces an involuntary feeling that makes you sick, angry, and cry, all at once. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, whenever I thought about what those murderers did, for days I couldn't stop shaking my head in disbelief. The news of Newtown makes me shake my head, even today.
As our nation shakes its collective head and wipes away the tears, one thing will result in the days, weeks and months ahead: There will be a national conversation about what caused such an act and how to prevent another one like this and so many others in the past few years, especially since Columbine. Indeed, President Obama has promised it and we should all contribute to this conversation.
But here's what we shouldn't do: We shouldn't focus on objects as the problem. A gun didn't create this nightmare, a human being did. Before we let ourselves and what our society has become off the hook, let's remember that the worst school massacre happened in Bath, Michigan in 1927, and the tool was dynamite. Let's remember that fertilizer was the active ingredient in the Oklahoma City attack by McVeigh and others. In a school of unarmed women and children, a man possessed of evil could have killed many helpless children with a single kitchen knife.
Guns are not our problem anymore than dynamite or kitchen knives are. What you and I care about - our values - govern our behavior. And our values manifest from what our minds consume. Just this weekend, one high school student in Oklahoma wanted to kill students in his school, but his plan was thwarted by another student who, obviously, was grounded in better values.
If we're going to have a national conversation about preventing mass murders, let's be honest enough to ask what role the following are playing:
- Increasing violence on TV and movies
- The proliferation of video games where real people push buttons to kill imaginary people
- Reality television programs that appeal to the most base human emotions and characteristics
- Political rhetoric that attempts to divide us as Americans, instead of appealing to what Abraham Lincoln called, "the better angels of our nature."
- The diminishing of religious faith as a foundational component of American society
- (Your example here)
Nothing we do can bring back those precious angels or the heroic and selfless adults who attempted to save them, knowing they would probably die in the process. But we can honor their memories, and possibly prevent other such tragedies, by demonstrating the courage to turn the responsibility on ourselves.
Objects are neither good nor evil - they're just tools. Only humans are capable of intentional good and premeditated evil.
When the 18th century Irish philosopher Edmund Burke penned this wisdom, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” his was not a technological world. Perhaps today he would add, “And since evil is easier to leverage than good, the good people have to work harder.”
On 21st century planet Earth, all good people have to work harder to fight evil. And surely, our first job is to seek the truth.
Jim Blasingame is one of the world's leading experts on small business and entrepreneurship. He is the creator and award-winning host of the nationally syndicated radio program, The Small Business Advocate ® Show. In addition to his weekly columns, Jim is the author of two books; Small Business is like a Bunch of Bananas and Three Minutes to Success .