So Much to Say; Nothing to Say

Events like Newtown, 12/14, reveal the full range of contradictory feelings within us all. At the most fundamental level, there is the first question: do you say anything at all? Or does saying something somehow detract or distract us from the essential meaning of the event, which is, paradoxically, its manifest meaninglessness? Is it perhaps better to say nothing -- not even a couple heartfelt, incredulous words online or at the water cooler -- and simply allow ourselves to be in the presence of horror?

But then we are contradictory creatures, and for most of us, such a horrible event demands some kind of reaction. Maybe we’re afraid that saying nothing seems heartless, like we don’t care (even though inside we know that silence itself is the most profound expression of shock). For some of us, it comes naturally: what could be more natural than to respond to an outrage with outrage, to voice -- no, scream -- our anger to the heavens.

And just as naturally, when all the voices fill the airwaves and social media and our own homes, then we recoil from the empty words: the 24-7 news coverage, the social media acquaintance who immediately jumps on the opportunity to pour out their feelings about gun control, mental illness, Barack Obama, or whatever was floating closest to the surface of their consciousness when the news broke; friends or family members who either seem obsessed with the news or not nearly concerned enough, to the point of callousness; the list goes on.

Words, words, words -- and none will bring back the dead. Here I am, filling the world with even more words. I guess it is simply cathartic to share our feelings.

I will confess that (like most people, I suspect) I’m prey to my own very contradictory, and not particularly pretty, feelings after Newtown. As noted, many people have fixated on the issue of gun control, which, whatever your views, can’t come as much of a surprise. For some reason however I am more focused on the other likely subject, mental illness -- and not in the calm, reasonable, technocratic way we’re supposed to approach this topic. 

I’m angry at crazy people. I know we’re not supposed to be angry at them for being crazy, but I can’t help it. With our political sensitivity and clinical disinterest, we treat them as victims when all too often they are the wolves among the sheep -- or in this case, lambs. We are supposed to pity them, somehow, and maybe even forgive them, “for they know not what they do,” but all I feel is towering rage towards crazy people. And I know it’s irrational; it’s just a contradiction that I may never resolve.

It’s more acceptable to be openly angry at the news media and politicians, laying bare another contradiction in our conflicted society. Yes, newscasters may appear repulsive as they seem to feed on the suffering of bereaved parents -- but they are just journalists doing their jobs, and we are the ones who choose to watch them. Meanwhile some people were predictably angry at Barack Obama for “grandstanding,” and “using” the event to lay the groundwork for more gun control, but was he really supposed to say nothing, do nothing? Yet he can’t be surprised by the public’s fevered reaction: we’re reeling, and as the president, it is natural that we project our conflicting impulses on to him. Just as we all want to say something but find words inadequate, we all want him to comfort us but then recoil at the idea, and refuse to be comforted.

Words, words, words -- and none will bring back the dead. Maybe it really is better to lapse into silence again.

4 comments about "So Much to Say; Nothing to Say".
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  1. Juli Schatz from Image Grille, December 17, 2012 at 3:23 p.m.

    I agree with you, I'm angry at crazy people, too, even though rationally I know they're not crazy because they want to be (at least, not the majority of them, I presume). I've long been opposed to mainstreaming -- not to deny mentally challenged kids the school experience, but because 24 other kids in the classroom have to accommodate one. The 24 lose out on the teacher's time and effort because she has to give extra attention -- and too often, a LOT of extra attention -- to the one special needs student. The argument from parents: their special kids deserve and have a right to the same classroom experience as "normal" students. But put simply, my argument is no, they don't -- not at the expense of other students' having a less-than-pleasant classroom because a special needs classmate constantly disrupts class, and it happens more frequently than those parents want to own up to. In fact, studies have shown that many students in a class with a mainstreamed students are scared with them there because of their rantings, screams, crying, threats, outbursts, etc. Why CAN'T special needs kids be separated from others during instructional time, so that ALL may benefit from the RIGHT classroom experience?

  2. Thomas Siebert from BENEVOLENT PROPAGANDA, December 17, 2012 at 3:38 p.m.

    Media definitely deserves criticism for not only its irresponsible coverage -- interviewing 7 year olds? "Were you scared?" -- but even moreso for reporting so much stuff wrong. The killer's mother was a, she wasn't. Her oldest son was the killer, and now we've got his Facebook page!....oh, wait. Morgan Freeman wrote something Important...sorry, that's a hoax.

    Where do these things start? Who first reported the mother was a teacher? Why so much misinformation?

    And now is hardly the time to be quiet. America's relationship with guns has turned the 2nd Amendment into a perverse suicide pact with "freedom." There must be discussion, debate, an exchange of ideas or the horror will only get worse.

  3. Andrew Boer from MovableMedia, December 17, 2012 at 4:12 p.m.

    The big surprise to me about how Newtown has played out in social media, has been the overwhelming rejection of the traditional media approach (espoused by Jay Carney and others) that the appropriate response was a period of respectful silence, decorum and grieving.

    Instead there has been a *lot* of dialogue and anger. It has been anything but quiet..and I get the sense that this noise, fueled by social media, might really change things that have been entrenched for much too long.

    A strange paradox that while individually there are a lot of empty, meaningless words collectively these words start to have a powerful signalling effect that changes minds.


    As for your anger at the crazy -- we are sensitive and clinical about the mentally ill because the alternative is worse.

    It is fair to assume that every wolf is a threat to sheep -- it is their nature. And I think it is valid to be angry at wolves when they attack. Pointless and irrational, since it makes no difference to the wolf, but valid. Go ahead and hate wolves.

    But when you direct your towering rage at "crazy people" you tar all the others with the same brush. Can people really just hate *some* wolves?

    If you are truly angry at Adam Lanza for being crazy, then consider what it feels like to be one of the tens of thousands of autistic/Asperger's kids right now on the school bus right now who, to all appearances, are just like Adam Lanza. Except they have done nothing wrong. Guess what the other kids are saying to them, right now? Do you want to be part of that, or be on the other side?

  4. Joel Drotts, December 18, 2012 at 11 p.m.

    If this kids mother was a school teacher and educator, then how could she possibly not know not to leave loaded fire arms in the home? That is no excuse for what happened, and my heart goes out to those kids. However, I am sick of every one in this country blaming other people for their problems, or for the misfortune of others.

    What happened was horrible, but to sit around talking a subject to death isn't appropriate either. How can a family get over a loss, if people keep coming up to them and reminding them of that loss. As far as seperate classes for the handi-capped kids, I thought that was simply just standard protocol. They need special attention, so they go with the rest of the hanicapped kids. It is not fair to hold 20 back for 1, and it is an even worse tragedy to hold 1 back for 20.

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