Orlando

“Hope is like peace. It is not a gift from God. It is a gift only we can give one another.”
~Elie Wiesel

I have been in a fog since Sunday when I heard about the mass shooting in Orlando. For all the evil I have seen in my career, I continue to be shocked at the depths people will go to inflict pain on others. Each time I hear of another shooting, I make a conscious effort not to become desensitized or assume this is the “new normal”. Each victim deserves our utmost and sincere feeling of loss and grief. But what do we do after we mourn?

Forget that the victims were targeted because of their sexuality. Forget that the shooter had been investigated by the FBI for ties to terrorism overseas. Forget even that this was the largest mass shooting in our country’s history, a history that seems to be racking up exponentially more and more gun deaths as time passes.  What I choose to focus on is my response as a spectator to these senseless killings. I’m not a legislator, though I can influence them with my vote and voice. I am not a gun owner, though I can advocate for responsible and sensible gun safety laws. Our greatest force for change is our ability to show compassion for those individuals we see in crisis BEFORE tragedy strikes. Every day I see children brought into the clinic that have experienced abuse, neglect, or exposure to violence both physical and toxic language or beliefs. I have seen what happens to these children if left alone; they will end up in prison, on the streets or become abusers themselves. That is why I started the Violence Intervention Program over three decades ago. I didn’t want one child in crisis to ever slip through the cracks and have their trauma evolve them into perpetrators of abuse and violence. This is the foundational principle to which I have dedicated my life and career and what I ask from my staff, supporters, and friends. The gunman in Orlando, like the shooters in countless other mass killings, wasn’t born with hate. It manifested over time and was left to fester by spectators too afraid to step in and give it the attention it needed to heal.

I believe we need more sensible gun laws, but there will be time for those discussions. Right now, we should mourn both the victims we lost and the part of our humanity that is lost with each shooting that could have been prevented, either though policy changes or individual acts of intervening compassion.  We should remind ourselves that compassion is our greatest weapon of prevention against these kinds of atrocities. When we teach our children to love and accept others and when we take the time to recognize others who need help and ensure they receive it, we are protecting the collective by strengthening and uplifting the individual.

Take a moment to start a discussion with friends and family about compassion, becoming the change you wish to see in the world so that others will follow. I will continue to provide love and hope to the children and adults I see in crisis; join me in providing that same active and intervening compassion to those you see in dire need of help. Together, we can begin to pull back this encroaching tide of violence and set a new path and example for a younger generation.

Love always,

Astrid