Difficult Peace

 

Years ago, when I inherited a gun shop and sold the inventory, I had to send a pistol through the mail. I brought all the necessary paperwork to the post office, the clerk was helpful, and then we got to the question they ask about every package: does this box contain anything dangerous?

"That's an interesting question," I said. "On the one hand, it's a gun. On the other ... there's no ammo in there. So it's just a hunk of metal and plastic, no more or less dangerous than any other hunk of metal and plastic." In the context of being mailed from one licensed gun dealer to another, that package was not, in fact, dangerous. Were someone to open the package and put ammunition into the gun, then it would become a deadly weapon.

As mass shootings continue to bring attention to certain types of gun violence in the U.S., I find myself remembering this conversation. I find myself thinking about the idea of safety. 

Because I have written quite a bit over the years about guns, I am highly sensitive to the repetitiveness of the discourse. It feels impossible to say anything new, impossible to say anything that will not be empty rhetoric. While my thoughts on the topic have changed in some ways over the years, and with hindsight and reflection I would certainly revise some of what I wrote in the past, for the most part my feelings are what they were two, five, ten, twenty years ago. I expect that's true of most people. Certainly, the public conversation has become ritualistic. Ten years ago, after the Sandy Hook shooting, Patrick Radden Keefe wrote in The New Yorker, "If a congresswoman [Gabrielle Giffords] in a coma isn’t sufficient grounds to reëvaluate the role that firearms play in our national life, is a schoolhouse full of dead children? I desperately want to believe that it is, and yet I’m not sure that I do. By this time next week, most of the people who are, today, signing petitions and demanding gun control will have moved on to other things."

I must admit wariness of and weariness with the discourse around mass shootings. Too often we do our greatest emotional work when shootings happen in places where we don't think there should be shootings, which means we have already accepted a baseline level of violence — that we do, in fact, think some places are more appropriate for mass shootings than others, some people more appropriate to be shot than others.

Even the perception of school shootings depends a lot not on children getting killed, but rather whose children are getting killed. "The politics of white masculinity have shaped coverage of these tragedies over time," Jennifer Carlson writes in her recent book Policing the Second Amendment: "before the Columbine massacre, school shootings were typically portrayed in mainstream media as involving black and brown perpetrators in marginalized, 'inner city' schools, and these tragedies were typically treated as clear-cut cases of criminality." Now, as the article Carlson draws this information from states, "Quantitative findings show that Whites and Latinos are more likely to have their crime attributed to mental illness than Blacks. Qualitative findings show that rhetoric within these discussions frame White men as sympathetic characters, while Black and Latino men are treated as perpetually violent threats to the public."

Mass shooting events become opportunities for people to express righteousness about the wrong people getting killed. As Patrick Blanchfield (my favorite writer on American gun ideology) has frequently said, the statement that "assault weapons" or AR-15s or whatever don't belong "on our streets" remains silent on the question of whose streets they do belong on. The U.S. government and arms manufacturers make a lot of money putting them on streets throughout the world. Liberal politicians vote with one hand to restrict guns in the U.S. and vote with the other hand to send billions of dollars of weapons around the globe. It is not simply that the United States is drowning in guns; it is that the United States is drowning the world in guns. The children who die in our schools are innocents; the children who die from our bullets and bombs in other countries are collateral damage.

 

 

Units of Force

There has been another mass shooting. Gun sales will increase. They always do. While manufacturers and dealers of firearms lower their heads for a moment of silence in honor of children's lives lost during a school shooting, they're thinking to themselves, "Tomorrow is going to be a great day for selling guns!" For the gun industry, every school shooting is a sales opportunity. 

It may seem ghastly — it is ghastly — that after a shooting, people run out and buy lots of guns. But that behavior can't be seen in isolation or stereotyped as terrible people wanting to get in on the mass shooting fervor. Gun sales increase at all times of unease. With the pandemic, social unrest, and a contentious election, 2020 was a record breaker for the gun industry. It makes sense. People want to feel safe, and for many people of many different beliefs, there are very few things you can do right now to make yourself feel safer in America than to get a gun.

Many of the liberals who say they would never own a gun and scoff at people for buying guns in a crisis are themselves quite willing to summon the police whenever they feel threatened or concerned. By calling the police, you decide to outsource the potential of gun violence rather than to wield it yourself. Like panic buying after a crisis, this also makes a certain sense if we see it as a way to bring a sense of safety to yourself. If someone is not comfortable with handling guns in a moment where they feel unsafe, why not call on trained people whose very job it is to bring a gun to an emergency?

The answer is all the innocent people shot and often killed by police. You cannot scold a gun owner with the statistic that they are at twice the risk of homicide and more than three times the risk of suicide compared to people who do not own or have access to firearms unless you are also willing to accept the statistics (messy as they are) for police shootings

People choose the statistics that make them feel both righteous and safe. Which is understandable, because both righteousness and safety make us feel good. But statistics don't actually make anybody feel safe. Our righteousness leads us to the statistics we want to believe. The statistics may be accurate, may even be incontrovertible, but they are not going to change the discourse. Statistics don't create a sense of safety or empowerment.

Nor do statistics change cultures. Ten years ago, Timothy Burke said, "When lots of people are doing something and valuing it as a part of their lives, it cannot be changed by fiat, no matter how good the arguments on paper are for doing it." This week, he wrote about guns as a force of meaning, gun ownership as belief in what he calls the American Blood Cult, a belief that provides concrete action in a world that makes us all feel disempowered:

The Blood Cult is one of the few answers to the loss of meaning. It is not lying when it promises that its members can act and do something. They can protect—they can be the good guy with the gun who stops (or tries to stop) the bad guy. They can bristle like a porcupine on the road or in a bar and let the other guy know that there will be consequences. They can avenge themselves against an unfeeling or unaccommodating world. They can exact a price if they’re turned into losers or chumps, and for one moment, show the world what it means to cheat a Blood Cult member of what he’s owed.

Or, as James William Gibson wrote way back in 1994 in his book Warrior Dreams, "Paramilitary culture made military-style rifles desirable, and legislation cannot ban a culture. The gun-control debate was but the worst kind of fetishism, in which focusing on a part of the dreadful reality of the decade — combat weapons — became a substitute for confronting what America had become."

 


Safety On

There are many disagreements between people who like guns and people who do not, but both types of people can agree, I expect, that they desire for themselves and the people they love safety, empowerment (the ability to affect their own lives), and a reduction of suffering. 

In her first book, Citizen-Protectors: The Everyday Politics of Guns in an Age of Decline, Jennifer Carlson states that for people who own guns, they "provide a measure to address problems of social insecurity and disorder." Too often, I think, people who advocate for gun control do not take those problems of insecurity and disorder seriously enough, and so they miss valuable opportunities to help reduce gun violence.

Consider, for instance, this new analysis from the Washington Post of suicides:

Of the 45,979 people who died by suicide in the United States in 2020, about 70 percent were White men, who are just 30 percent of the country’s overall population. That makes White men the highest-risk group for suicide in the country, especially in middle age, even as they are overrepresented in positions of power and stature in the United States. [That] rate ... has steadily climbed over the past 20 years.

Firearm access is a risk factor for suicide, because guns are a quicker and more lethal means to suicide than many others, and the group with the greatest access to firearms is also the group that — by far — dominates the statistics for suicide deaths. It would be nice to significantly decrease suicidal people's access to guns, but in a country drowning in guns, that is not going to happen any time soon, so we must instead look to what drives people to suicide rather than the means by which they achieve it. In a country with more guns than people, reducing motivations for suicide is a path toward reducing gun violence.

The Washington Post article linked above profiles a 59-year-old man, Bill Hawley, who is a survivor of a suicide attempt and now works with men in Wyoming, the state with the highest suicide rate. Hawley 

talks to other men “about that brokenness we all feel inside,” about “whole health: mind, body and soul.” He is unnervingly unafraid to be sappy. Some men respond with uneasy, unblinking stares. But, perhaps improbably, some respond to his earnestness by talking about their addictions, about their problems with middle-aged bullies who still taunt them about “acting gay,” about their search for scarce therapists in rural America who can help them heal.

The article states that Hawley believes that suicides in the communities he works with have "to do with the gap between the expectations men have for their lives and the reality of their individual experiences, worsened by cultural norms that discourage them from expressing any emotions besides anger. Toxic masculinity often turns outward. But it also turns inward."

Work to provide alternatives to toxic masculinity is work to reduce gun violence.

We know that the majority of mass shootings have a connection to domestic violence. Perhaps the most effective legislation we could advocate for right now to reduce the likelihood of mass shootings would be to increase measures to limit domestic abusers' access to guns. That is not an easy or small task, and not just because of legislative hurdles — there is also the added complexity of police officers who are domestic abusers and the reality of the Supreme Court, a fundamentally anti-democratic institution which in its current configuration is even more ghastly than usual. (Significant police reform and court reform are also central to any effort to reduce gun violence.) But working to limit domestic abusers' access is something, and any success, even small, would save lives.

In 2011, I wrote, "What we have to continue to work on is figuring out a sane way to live with an insane reality: ours is a country where there are more guns than people." I continue to believe this is the fundamental challenge. You are not going to confiscate any meaningful number of guns in a country where there are more guns than people, so give up on that fantasy right now. (The most ideological pro-gun folks love that fantasy, too. It inspires their stockpiling, it contributes to their sense of being under siege. It is a complete and total delusion.) We need other dreams.

However, I would adjust what I wrote in 2011 now to read: We have to continue to work on figuring out a sane way to live in a country where there are more guns than people, a country founded on and fueled by violence.

 

 

The United States of Violence

The problem of mass shootings is by definition a problem of gun violence, but gun violence is a problem of American violence, and we will make little progress toward reducing gun violence if we do not address the violence that suffuses the United States — the violence that, in so many ways, is the United States. In America, we have been killing children since the first days the Europeans landed on these shores. That legacy is not one we are good at reckoning with, and, indeed, in many places now, conservatives have passed laws prohibiting teachers from even speaking of such things. That's not reckoning, that's repression.

While a country with more guns than people will always have a problem with accidental shootings, and children will continue to die because of accidents with guns, we will make all our lives infinitely safer if we commit ourselves to reducing the violence so central to our culture, to our economy, to our ways of thinking, to our approach to the world, to our work with each other.

People who desire more gun control will argue that the one difference between the U.S. and other countries is not our rate of mental illness, not our violent movies and video games, not anything but the fact that we have more guns per capita than any other country by quite a margin. That number of guns per capita is true (and the number rather underestimates things: it is only an estimate of legal guns owned by civilians, not guns possessed by police or military, nor guns on the black market). However, true as it is that we are the most saturated with deadly weapons, that we are not unique in our mental illnesses, that violent media are present in far more peaceful places than our own, etc. — the fact that we have the most guns is not sufficient as an explanation for gun violence.

What we must acknowledge in addition to the number of guns is the culture of the U.S. and how that culture renders only some people's lives meaningful. In Policing the Second Amendment, Carlson writes that "while gun policy may often appear to center on color-blind questions about who can purchase guns, who can carry them, and what kind of guns they can own, its foundation in racial presumptions about legitimate violence makes the promise of gun policy fundamentally different in the United States than in other places."

Advocates for gun controls must recognize that in the United States, gun talk is also police talk and both are also race talk. Carlson makes this point forcefully, arguing that gun politics and the politics of police are co-constitutive, and both are inseparable from the ways race works in our society. Racial ideas do a lot of work to frame what kind of violence is exceptional, what kind of violence is legitimate, and what kind of person is deemed worthy of being grieved. (My only quibble with Carlson is that I think it is worth paying more attention to how all of these things are inflected by gender, class, and sexuality, too — just ask a trans person. Or follow what happens to women who shoot their abusers. For that matter, much as I am reluctant to bring it up, the Amber Heard/Johnny Depp trial starkly demonstrates how a woman who has all the greatest privileges of society can still be portrayed by large parts of that society as less worthy of compassion and less trustworthy than a man.)

In a 2009 article, Ruth Wilson Gilmore wrote:

The United States ranks first in military power, wealth, war-making, murder rates, and incarceration rates. At the time of this writing in the summer of 2008, one in one hundred US adults was locked in a cage, and an additional two per cent were under the direct supervision of the criminal justice system. While the vast majority of people in custody did not kill or violently harm anybody, the centrality of violence to all aspects of US life helps explain the continuum from policing and prisons to war.

It is not a coincidence that a country founded on genocide and enslavement, a country with by far the most military spending in the world, a country that continues to export more weapons than any other, a country that continues to imprison more of its citizens than any other ... is also the country that suffers terrible gun violence.

It is also not a coincidence that a country with vast wealth inequality, significant healthcare disparities, an utterly inadequate social safety net — a country where most people don't have enough savings to cover an emergency — is a country that suffers terrible gun violence.

Yes, we need to work for more rational gun laws, and we must work to help each other understand what we see as rational and why. (My goal would be to create laws that treat guns as we do that other favorite deadly weapon of Americans, the automobile. I have zero faith anything close to that ideal will be achieved in my lifetime.)

But really what we need to do is seek nonviolence. We need to work — and it is work, work requiring great effort — to become less violent. We need to be less violent ourselves and we need to build communities that are less violent. We need to increase feelings of safety and security. I say feelings deliberately, because otherwise we fall into a trap of arguing about, for instance, crime statistics, and it is pointless to tell somebody who feels unsafe that statistics show they are, in fact, safe.

Perhaps the most challenging part is that while we certainly need to work on our own safety and perceptions of safety, we also, equally, need to attend to the feelings of safety of people we dislike and don't agree with. Whatever your own personal side in the gun debate, your sense of safety in at least a small way, and perhaps a large one, relies on the sense of safety of the people you most vehemently disagree with about guns. 

 


Do Something!

In a brilliant and essential conversation with Kelly Hayes recently, Patrick Blanchfield said:

There is literally nothing anyone could do in the way of a single policy alternative or a broad based law that could possibly make people feel as good as a given nightmare episode of violence makes them feel bad. No law is going to bring anybody back. And also, no law is going to — pardon the phrase — silver bullet fix the problem such that somehow we will be vindicated. The dead don’t come back. There isn’t a satisfying shoot out at the end, where the good guy wins. That’s just not how things work. And instead, you have to start talking about, you know, whether they be abolitionist or other types of interventions, but ones that make such outcomes less likely, less thinkable. What are alternatives that are not the cycle of bad thing happens with a gun, therefore we need more of the right people with guns there? Right? Or mandatory minimums, any of that stuff. Just, what would be something other than the same?

Not only must we struggle with the feelings these nightmare episodes of violence produce in us, we must do so at a time when it feels impossible for any sort of majority will to have an effect on the political landscape. As Timothy Burke noted in his recent piece, "Contemporary America is under the control of a political minority, a control that is teetering on the edge of becoming a genuine tyranny." I am not one who thinks the United States has ever been much of a democracy — anti-democratic elements, including the U.S. Senate, the Electoral College, and the Supreme Court are baked in, and the dominance of money in politics makes even shallow reform impossible — but there is a particular feeling of disempowerment for many people now, perhaps felt most acutely by people who did believe the U.S. is a functional democracy and are now so obviously confronted with the fact of minority rule.

This sense of being disempowered contributes to a sense that it is impossible to do anything. Guns sell because if you feel unsafe, you can buy a gun and tell yourself that will give you protection. But if you don't want to buy a gun, what can you do? We tag politicians in our Tweets because even though we know it will achieve exactly nothing, it at least feels like something. We send some money to an organization that aligns with our beliefs. Maybe we make a sign and go to a protest. But nothing changes, and we don't really expect it to. It's still scary to send kids to school in the morning, and kids will still be subjected to active shooter drills (just like their grandparents were subjected to atomic bomb drills, and with about the same expectation of effectiveness — but hey, it's something, right?).

It is little comfort to say that the best way to reduce gun violence is to support programs to reduce domestic violence, suicide, incarceration, precarity, lack of access to healthcare, etc. It is not satisfying to say that the solution to gun violence is to create a less violence society, a society that supports people with compassion. On some level, we know all this already. But that knowledge isn't useful, it doesn't do something, it just sits there, oppressing us with the hugeness of its challenge. What we want is to be able to pass a law that makes school shootings stop, that makes mass shootings stop, that returns to us a sense of safety.

We're all out here having what Pink Floyd (Roger Waters, really) called "The Gunner's Dream". A dream of a place where everyone is safe and taken care of and no-one kills the children anymore. And night after night, this dream goes round and round in our minds, driving us insane.

I wish I had a comforting answer. I don't. Take heed of the dream.

 

 

No Answer, Just Seeds

To learn which questions are unanswerable, and not to answer them: this skill is most needful in times of stress and darkness. 

—Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness

The rest of what I write here is not about policy, government, gun control, any of that. It is about our minds and our feelings. I cannot right now see a way to affect the political and social landscape to significantly reduce gun violence — if anything, I think the political and social landscape is arranged in such a way that that violence is going to increase for a while, and we may even see symptoms of an impending civil war. But I can see a way to affect my own psychic landscape, and so that is where I start.

The pandemic has been a good opportunity for reflection. How, I have wondered, do I make my way in this world? And what do I do with all the pent up anger and fear this world provides?

As much as I have always hated and feared prisons, as much as my inclinations are toward prison abolition, I still find it easy to fall into carceral thinking. Last year, when George Floyd's murderer was sentenced to prison, I was happy. Good riddance to that man. May his name never be spoken again. I had no illusion that it was justice (justice would be George Floyd not being dead); it felt good because it was punishment. And punishment felt good not only because George Floyd's killer was obviously a person who thought he would keep getting away with his abuses — and it is emotionally fulfilling (in a shallow way, but still fulfilling) to see abusive people get a comeuppance — but the punishment also felt good because it felt like finally something was done about police violence in this country. Finally, for once, there was something resembling accountability. I knew it would not change much, if anything. I knew it was one case out of countless others. But still. It was something. And it felt good, this once, to have something. Let him rot.

Even as I generally support the ideals and ideas of prison abolition, I still feel little regret about celebrating the incarceration of George Floyd's killer. This bothers me less from an abolitionist standpoint than from a standpoint of compassion. I have not yet figured out a way to feel compassion for George Floyd's killer. If you were to tell me that he is being waterboarded every day and stretched on a rack every night, I might even smile. This is a feeling to admit, but not a feeling of which to be proud, and I am not.

While I am scornful of the commodification of mindfulness as a term and practice, and wary of how certain types of mindfulness practice seem designed to encourage narcissism, I have nonetheless been strengthened and challenged over the years, and especially during the pandemic, by Thich Nhat Hanh's writings. His early work is especially provocative, less given over to bland homilies and a capitulation to capitalism than some of his later writings. (I've written more about my reading of him in  "The Strength of Kindness".) The original Miracle of Mindfulness book was not intended to be a massive bestseller that launched a thousand corporate wellness retreats. It was written as a letter to monks and workers in Vietnam at the School of Youth for Social Service in 1974, which Nhat Hanh had founded before his exile. They were having a difficult time and were dispirited by frequent persecution. Nhat Hanh reminded them of ways of thinking and being that might help them find some calm within an exhausting, even terrifying, situation. The Miracle of Mindfulness is a book about many things, but at heart it is about how to keep from losing your mind when everything around you conspires to make you go mad.

In such later books as Peace Is Every Step and No Mud, No Lotus, Thich Nhat Hanh offers the idea that as humans we contain all the seeds of both positive and negative emotions, and we must both recognize those seeds and also try not to nurture the negative ones. The powerful idea here is that it is fruitless to try to eliminate the negative emotions; they are there and will always be there. The goal is not to nurture them, not to let them grow large and dominant. As a human, I am a creature with, for instance, anger. Anger will be there, it might even sprout of its own accord and grow in the environment I live in, an environment which may be conducive to anger through no fault of my own. Anger may, in fact, be the most appropriate feeling for unjust situations. But I do not need to water that feeling. This simple idea is an important one. (Indeed, in times of crisis, we need simple ideas to return to, because it is in crisis that the complex ideas are hardest to grasp.)  We could even update the idea of not watering seeds to the internet age: don't feel the trolls in your self. (Also, there is no self. But that's a topic for another day!)

I have taken to asking myself what seeds I am watering with particular actions and even with certain ways of thinking. If I can't help but water seeds of vindictiveness, say — because dammit I want the killer of George Floyd to rot — then I need to make sure I pay extra attention to the positive seeds, the creative rather than destructive seeds, the seeds that lead to compassion and help reduce suffering. The hope is that by nurturing the positive, creative seeds of compassion, the garden of our emotional lives will then provide nourishment.

My favorite of Nhat Hanh's books is one he wrote — or, rather, spoke — with the Jesuit priest and anti-war activist Daniel Berrigan in 1974, The Raft Is Not the Shore. Here were two men who had worked hard for peace and who had, in many ways, failed; the book is the record of their working through their ideas, their challenges, their disappointments, their beliefs. Nhat Hanh says, "I think that communities of resistance should be places where people can return to themselves more easily, where the conditions are such that they can heal themselves and recover their wholeness."

You and I are unlikely to solve the problem of gun violence in a violent nation full of guns. But individually and together we can pay attention to our own relationship to violence. In a country with more guns than people, how might we work to create communities of resistance? How might we encourage and fortify the conditions that will heal us? How can we find the compassion to help reduce the suffering of the people who threaten us — because the threat they pose is a threat derived from their suffering, just as our own suffering makes us, whether we are aware of it or not, a threat to other people.

A sense of interconnectedness — what Thich Nhat Hanh calls interbeing — is the only thing that will save us. That was in many ways the one important take-away for me from my long essay on H.P. Lovecraft recently: to lessen hate, we must cultivate a sense of interconnection. Hatred is a separation of self from other. Hatred indulges in duality. 

Conflicting ideas of safety pose real challenges to acting from an understanding of interbeing, because a sense of safety is so foundational to our being. How do we find a shared sense of safety with people whose idea of safety may, in fact, be the opposite of our own?

How do people for whom guns are a threat acknowledge their interconnection with people for whom guns are the tools that make them feel safe and empowered? How do people for whom guns are the tools of protection acknowledge their interconnection with people for whom guns are threats of death? Both sides feel threatened at an existential level by the other. That is the impasse. 

We are convinced by our own arguments because the ideas we hold are the ones that support our feeling of safety. The arguments in conflict with our own position make us feel less safe, less empowered, more vulnerable, and therefore those arguments with which we disagree seem both absurd and deadly. That is why, so often, we have a visceral response to those ideas with which we disagree. It is more than disagreement. We feel in some way (likely unconsciously) threatened.

Working for peace is difficult, especially when we perceive ourselves as threatened or we are living in crisis. Working for peace requires something of a leap of faith, and that leap does not feel abstract. Violence always feels stronger, always feels like more control, always feels like something you can do. The idea of peace, on the other hand, may often feel like weakness, like a loss of control, like inaction.

One of the most extraordinary things I've ever read by Thich Nhat Hanh is his essay "If You Want Peace, Peace Is with You Immediately" (collected in Love in Action: Writings on Nonviolent Social Change), where he tells the story of his truly harrowing work to rescue Vietnamese refugees, the "boat people". Discovered by government authorities in Singapore, he and his comrades were in immediate jeopardy of being deported, leaving them unable to help 800 people who still needed some sort of transportation to either Australia or Guam. Instead of fighting, he took a moment to meditate on the idea that is the essay's title. He was then able to think clearly, to work to get the French embassy's assistance, and ultimately to get the refugees to safety. He writes: "I vowed that if I could not have peace at that moment, I would never be able to have peace. If I could not be peaceful in the midst of danger, the kind of peace I might realize in easier times would not mean anything."

This idea of a difficult peace is what I come back to now, as yet another shooting in a school leaves children dead and fills any even vaguely compassionate person with a desire to do something to stop such things from ever happening again. It is all well and good to advocate compassion and nonviolence when it is easy to do so, but such advocacy only really matters in the times where compassion and nonviolence are most difficult. It is in those times that they are most necessary. 

What we do in the easier times is practice for the difficult times. We grow the structures and networks we need to be able to rely on. We nurture our communities and relationships so that, when chaos strikes, we are not alone. We do the difficult work of coalition building — of finding common cause with people who are different from us, people who disagree with us or see the world differently. We practice compassion so that it is not a foreign feeling but rather a habit of mind.

This all may feel rather far afield of how we address the seeming impossibility of overcoming a culture of violence. But we do not need to let the culture of violence be ours. We do not need to embrace it. Let the culture of violence remain outside us, even as it attacks us. It may be out there forever, it may have devastating effects on our own lives and our children's lives — almost certainly, it will have devastating effects on all our lives, if it hasn't already (and it probably has) — but we can still at the very least resolve to nurture the difficult peace and do what we can to share compassion within these realms we live in.

Nurturing peace and sharing compassion might seem like small and inadequate things to you. They are, indeed, inadequate, because everything is inadequate to an impossible task. But if you think they are small, then you have not actually tried to do the very hard work of strengthening the peace and compassion in and around yourself. And today might be a good day to start that work.

We, the people outnumbered by our guns, must envision the peace that will allow more guns to remain metal and plastic, undangerous. We must embrace compassion and interconnection to make the leap into new ideas of safety for ourselves and for other people — people we do not know, people we may not agree with, people we may not even like. Our sense of safety is inextricable from theirs.

We must do the work of difficult peace because it is the only path that leads away from suffering.


We fight the same battles over and over again. They are never won for eternity, but in the process of struggling together, in community, we learn how to glimpse new possibilities that otherwise never would have become apparent to us, and in the process we expand and enlarge our very notion of freedom.

—Angela Y. Davis, "Difficult Dialogues" in The Meaning of Freedom





[all images in this post are paintings by Andrew Wyeth]