By David Hegg
As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, the cloud of anger and despair brought on by the Saugus shooting still lingers over us. For some, a time of thanksgiving will be difficult, even unwanted, as they worry that returning to normal is to forget what happened. And yet, I believe gratitude is our best opportunity to restore the spirit of hope that is essential to perseverance in a broken world.
In the immediate aftermath of the Nov. 14 tragedy, I was interviewed by several media outlets. Eventually, each reporter asked this question: What should we do to keep these terrible events from happening?
I replied that discussions on safety, protocols, guns and other subjects will always have a place, but that it is more important to ask what we’ve stopped doing. I put it this way: What has been taken out of society that used to provide restraint?
Regardless of how you see the question of prevention, we all must agree that there has been a slow but steady erosion in our society of the kinds of restraints that once kept these events from becoming the norm.
At some point, we lost the truth that no life is independent. Today society champions individual independence to the degree that many feel no responsibility for others, or how their actions affect the world.
Parents once raised their children to understand they were accountable, not just to those in authority, but to everyone around them. By accountable I simply mean knowing that every action impacts others, and we are accountable for the way our lives affect those around us. Further, integrity was once understood to demand that we strive to help rather than hurt, to build up rather than tear down. We once agreed that love of neighbor and care for one another were essential societal practices.
But today’s ethic is much different. It is now standard practice to insist no one judge me. My identity is up to me. I am who I am and you just need to allow me to be me. And if you in any way attempt to judge me, or change me, or shame me, be aware that I will destroy you!
Sound familiar? We are losing a societal ethic that has long restrained individual animosity. In our quest for individual freedom we are hacking apart the bonds of mutual care by labeling as evil the reality that you and I are responsible for one another and not just ourselves.
I would assert that those who take guns onto school campuses and carry out pre-planned shooting sprees take no thought of the effects their actions will have on their parents, their victims, their friends, the school community, their neighborhood, their city, or their world. Somehow, they have grown so ethically independent that they no longer see themselves as accountable to the world around them.
In reality this boils down to gratitude. We must be grateful for lives other than our own, even those with whom we have differences. Tolerance is gratitude that another human being exists, regardless of the circumstances. Compassion is gratitude that life has meaning and must be cared for. Courage is gratitude that something can be done to help others. Forgiveness is gratitude that relationship can still be possible. And restraint is gratitude that violence is never the answer to our problems while empathy and rational thinking might be.
So, as we celebrate Thanksgiving Day, can we agree that no man is an island? Can we agree that the only way to preserve our lives is to accept responsibility for one another’s well-being? And can we agree to reach back and re-acquire a commitment to loving our neighbors, and even our enemies, in order to teach and model before our children an ethic that provides the only way to live well in a broken, dangerous world? And can we be thankful we are still here, and the sun still rises on a new day that we’ve been given as another opportunity to do the right thing?
I hope so. I pray so. Have a gratitude-filled Thanksgiving holiday!
David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a local resident.“Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.