Sheriff Joe Lombardo, who’s leading the Las Vegas mass shooting investigation, echoed what many are feeling following the horrific events there: “The world has changed.”
News organizations have called it the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history. It was awful – so awful it felt a little like Sept. 11, 2001.
Police have yet to find a motive, at least one that satisfactorily explains why so many people had to die. Lack of an understandable motive differentiates this shooting from others in our history. Many have involved Muslim fanatics intent on jihad. Others involved lonely, isolated males taking out their frustrations. Still others involved racist whites who killed dozens of blacks or Native Americans. We can wrap our brains around cruel acts whose perpetrators have some sort of tangible motive. But Las Vegas shooter Steven Paddock seemed to lack a motive and, in fact, he had a lot going for him. He had a loving girlfriend, was well off financially, retired and seemingly living the good life in Nevada. So it’s hard to understand why he lashed out.
If no one can explain why Paddock did it, how should we deal with this? Are we living in an insane asylum where we can’t go to class, a movie theater or an outdoor concert without fear of being shot? Should we retreat to our homes and never leave? Or is this just the act of a solitary individual who doesn’t represent the culture? I understand why he said it, but I don’t agree with Lombardo’s assessment that “the world has changed.” Though we tend to whitewash and glorify the past, the world has always been nuts, and our “world” is no different.
Staying positive and keeping things in perspective is the only response to Paddock. Billy Joel’s 1983 hit “Keeping the Faith” came to mind this week. A line from the song is refreshing in times like this: “You know the good ol’ days were not always good, and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.”
I also thought of Pink Floyd’s “On the Turning Away,” off their 1987 album “A Momentary Lapse of Reason.” The lyrics warn us from being paralyzed by fear and ignoring the needs of others: “No more turning away from the weak and the weary. No more turning away from the coldness inside. Just a world that we all must share. It’s not enough just to stand and stare. Is it only a dream that there’ll be no more turning away?”
Don’t get me wrong, Lombardo is an impressive fellow. I liked how stern he was during the press conference I saw. While he may be right to think “the world has changed,” it’s something a leader shouldn’t say. It’s defeatist. It’s a cop-out. It’s really just an excuse for inaction, for giving up, for turning a cold shoulder to what’s going on.
I hear people say it all the time, though. I say it. Not until this week did I realize how toxic it is, however. There has always been negativity to be battled. When graffiti on a highway underpass happens, we need to paint over it each time. When kids get harassed, we need to discipline and punish the bullies. When people commit crimes, they need to be sent to jail. We as individuals and a society get beaten down but we continue fighting the bad guys. It’s a never-ending challenge. It’s the same with our mental outlook. We need to stay positive and focused on the good things.
The best post-shooting interview I saw was with a father and daughter paramedic team who aided victims. The daughter told CBS Evening News that their grief counselor told them, “If you let this fear change your life, then he’s taking another victim.” The reporter then asked, “You’re not going to let him win?” And the father replied, “No, not at all.”
That’s how I’m going to handle this tragic event in American history. I accept that the world is scary and that it’s always been scary. Now’s no different. As that father suggested, I’m not going to let Paddock claim another victim by letting fear run my life.
Mine isn’t a Pollyanna approach, however. Things really aren’t as bad as they seem. The violent crime and murder rates, as tracked by the FBI, are lower now than at any time since the 1970s. And many people we meet on a daily basis are kind and willing to lend a helping hand. Because our lives are constantly aided by the actions of good people, maybe that’s why we are so shocked when someone lashes out as Paddock did. He’s the exception that proves the rule.
John Balentine, a former managing editor for Sun Media Group, lives in Windham.