Numbers carry a massive weight. They tell us how fast or how slow to go. They let us know that two plus two equals four. They discern the winners and losers of our favorite sports. They tell us that everything is all right when we can see all 10 fingers, 10 toes, two ears, two eyes and 32 teeth.
They also tell us that the United States of America is 300-something million strong. They tell us that our unemployment rate stands at 7.8 percent.
They tell us that it’s been 10 long tumultuous years since the beginning of the Iraq War and nearly 12 since 9/11.
They tell us that nearly 4,500 have died in the conflict since then and somewhere around 1.3 million soldiers have died amassing the lives lost in every single United States conflict.
They tell us that 27 died in Newtown almost four months ago. They tell us 12 died at shootings in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater. They tell us that since those Newtown shootings, there have been upwards of 2,500 murders.
Let me preface by saying this is not a pro-gun control rant; it is instead a wake-up call that must force us as a society to look past the overwhelming numbers.
I suppose my question is: What do we make of these numbers? Are we listening to them? Are they adequate? Are they acceptable?
Do we as a nation have a fundamental disconnect with violence and death? My heart tells me no, but my mind is beating me over the head telling me yes.
After the Newtown massacre, it seems that there was a wake-up call. Soon after the tragedy, the media, politicians and ordinary citizens launched into an intense debate over guns and whether the assault weapons ban should be reinstated.
In fact Connecticut just passed the strictest gun laws in the nation in reaction to those very shootings.
Nonetheless, I worry. I worry that whatever is done to prevent, or on the contrary to maintain the status quo, will do nothing to change the attitude in this nation that violence is used to solve our problems.
Thankfully, I am one of the lucky individuals who has not had to deal very much with death in my life outside of the deaths of family members and friends. For the most part, those deaths have been part of the natural cycle of life. But death itself is beginning to feel natural because it’s everywhere.
I turn on the local news and I want to shut it off because it is so depressing. Someone has been gunned down in the city. A man beats his wife to death. Someone is mugged.
I don’t know anyone who has been shot or murdered as a result of gun violence. I—like many of us at this university —am ensconced and protected by a bubble that keeps us disconnected from the cold, cold world.
Am I wrong for wanting to shut my eyes and wish it all away? Am I wrong for wanting to turn it off or should I force myself to watch, and remember the names of those who passed away far too soon.
Am I wrong for not being able to comprehend the sheer magnitude of the roughly 1.3 million soldiers who have died in combat?
This constant cycle of mass casualties and deaths every single day creates a cyclone that turns my brain off to the sheer reality that we have a massive problem.
Again, my heart tells me no. It could not be that we as a nation don’t shed a single tear for those who have passed on outside of own social circles. But the evidence is there.
What are we really doing to prevent these deaths? What are we doing to change our precarious culture of overwhelming bereavement? Sometimes, the knee-jerk, finger-point reaction leads to guns. Would fewer guns on the streets help fix this disconnect? Probably, but I worry that is a quick fix to the ends of a mean, not the means to an end.
Why not fundamentally change the way people eat, think and interact with one another? Why not look at the individual’s perpetrating this violence and help them figure out different solutions? Whether it’s the government authorizing another war or the bully on the playground, violence does not always have to be the answer.
All I ask is that you honestly think about the 16,259 homicides in 2011. All I ask is that you think about the communities and individuals affected next time you hear about someone gunned down on the news or blown up over in Afghanistan.
We as human beings have a connection with one another whether we like it or not. These numbers are indeed difficult to wrap our heads around, so instead, think not of the numbers, think of the living, breathing, thriving person that was. Think of how it would feel to lose that person. Think of how it feels to be a part of that statistic—human-to-human, not human-to-number.