What has been witnessed in the wake of the Florida school shooting is not about gun control or mental health. It is not about school security measures or legislation. Yesterday’s hearings, townhalls and press events made plain that what it is about is sheer and overwhelming grief and fear – at least for a large portion of the nation. Also plain is that those in the nation not sharing in that intense emotion feel as if they are being assaulted by those emotions and are therefore overwhelmingly defensive. In other words, reasoned discussion is simply not possible at this juncture – the emotions are too strong on all sides.
These are the kinds of situations where everybody should just take a deep breath, step away for a while and get some emotional control so that reasoned discussion can occur. But that truly is not where this nation is and that is where ugly things really happen.
There is an impetus to action in situations like this, born of the need for catharsis. That can lead to very unwise decision making. However, it must be remembered that to fail to act, and act quickly, can be as unwise as any action taken. To deliberate slowly and purposefully, a process designed to produce wise decision making, in a situation like this can be very unwise. Sometimes it is more important that something happen than what happens. Such is where this observer sees the nation right now.
Primum non nocere – “First, do no harm.” There is a reason a variation of this phrase is in the Hippocratic Oath, that oath which physicians take. Often doctors are called upon to take action when a patient’s life is clearly in danger, even though they are unsure of what is happening or how to treat it. They have to do something, but they have little idea, if any, as to what is the best thing to do. Therefore, they are guided by this principal – whatever you do, don’t make matters worse.
There are a thousands ideas out there right now – some wise, some unwise – some emanating from those mired in fear and grief and some emanating from those in a deeply defensive posture. We need to sort through them quickly – I mean really quickly – and evaluate them not on the basis of wisest or most efficacious, but on the basis what will cause the least harm. We need to then take the least harmful idea from the fear and grief crowd and the least harmful idea from the defensive crowd and make them both happen.
Then we can counsel people to take a deep breath and step away. Then we can carve out a space for reasoned discussion.
ADDENDUM: I think David French reads the situation more or less as I do. We are at dangerous passion levels.