Let it be said that I haven’t watched, heard, or read the last words of the Virginia Tech shooter, diffused throughout the media after the fact (in an action that neighbour James Howden called “the ultimate sell-out” where “…mass murder and mass media join hands and celebrate the power of rage and heartbreak”). I don’t really plan to. Acting out an emotional, mental and spiritual sickness is still acting out, whether it happens in Blacksburg or Montreal, in Columbine or in Taber, Alberta. Oddly enough, in the media fallout from the Virginia Tech massacre, I discovered that one of North America’s first school shootings happened at St. Pius X High School in Ottawa in 1975—weird (although still not surprising) to know that such things have happened so close to home.
Why do we rush to blame someone else when things go horribly wrong? In the case of a school shooting like this one, emotions run high and blame shifts from target to target in rapid succession—the perpetrator, his parents, the educational system that brought him up, the laws of the land, the government, the church, God—et cetera. I confess to being a victim of such blame-gaming myself; it’s like a ritual we’re all trapped in, and it never goes anywhere. You just know that despite all the blaming, despite all the public displays of anger and grief, despite tougher gun laws and stricter regulations, there’ll be another shooting next year. Because that’s where we’re at now—that’s what we’re trapped in. Philippe of Baha’i Thought tackled the issue after the Virginia Tech shooting, and put his thoughts this way:
Clearly my point is not to blame the victims or their families for what has happened to them, but rather to ponder some of the implications of this tragedy and similar ones. I know that it is of little comfort, especially at a time like this, but I feel this is the most useful commentary that I can make. Humanity must accept responsibility for the kind of world that we have created through the operation of our free will. Such acceptance would be the first step on the road to recovery and healing.
Simply put, humanity is not doing well. In fact, to quote ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, “The world of humanity is sick”. We have tried many systems and many plans of our own devising, and how much further ahead are we? Rather, how much more confused, defeated, powerless, and impotent are we, particularly when the key condition—that of unity—has yet to be truly achieved? Back in September, I wrote:
…[O]ne of the most fundamental reasons why tragedies like this happen is lack of unity. we all know the world is in trouble and needs help, but it seems like nobody can—or will—agree on what to do about it. as long as we come to the discussion table with our hidden agendas and vested interests, as long as we fight each other trying to prove each other wrong instead of working together to investigate and understand the truth, as long as we mistrust one another and set ourselves apart from others, tragedy upon tragedy will keep dogging us like the waves of a slowly rising sea. without unity, no social progress is possible; the longer we quibble, the more people will hurt.
This kind of understanding isn’t new; throughout history, the advancement of civilization from one stage to the next was made possible by achieving unity within ever-increasing groups—from the family to the village, from village to town, from town to city, from city to nation. Civilizations united in spirit rose; civilizations marred by disunity eventually fell. Today, a new call has been made, this time for humanity to put all its efforts into achieving unity on a global scale. How is this possible, one might ask, if we can’t even ensure the unity of a nation, a town, or even a family in this day? Is world unity even possible given the state we’re in?
“The world of humanity is sick,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said, “but that skilled Physician hath the healing remedy and He bestoweth divine teachings, exhortations and advices which are the remedy of every ailment and the dressing for every wound.” He referred to His Father, Bahá’u’lláh, as the “Physician” who brought a healing remedy for the ills of humanity in the form of revealed principles and laws, many of which offer practical tools for building and maintaining unity: consultation; service to humanity; elevation of work done in a spirit of service to the level of worship; universal education; fellowship between all races and all religions; the equality of men and women; the complementarity of science and religion—the list goes on. Bahá’í communities throughout the world are already living proof that unity can be established. No human being is perfect, granted; still, each one of us can get a little better bit by bit.
The first step of twelve-step programs usually involves testifying to the unmanageability of one’s life, and admitting one’s powerlessness before one’s own condition. Perhaps the first step we can take, as Philippe mentioned, is to acknowledge that humanity as a whole has a problem, and that things must change. No matter what our course of action is afterwards—and no matter what may be our race, nationality, religion or creed—each and every one of us can make a conscious decision to work towards unity instead of being carried away in rituals that simply lead us back to square one.
“…the oneness of the world of humanity shall be realized, accepted and established. When we reflect upon this blessed principle, it will become evident and manifest that it is the healing remedy for all human conditions.” (‘Abdu’l-Bahá)