This weekend, San Antonio received its own iteration of the quintessentially American tragedy- a mass shooting in a small town Southeast of city center. If this plays out in any way like the shootings last month in Las Vegas did, (and my social media feed indicates that it will), it will take a long time for real answers based in evidence to come, and no time at all for blame to be laid on any number of categories of people who bear no collective responsibility for the murders that took place today.
In the past five hours I’ve seen the killer declared to be a Christian, an Atheist, a Muslim, a member of ANTIFA (this isn’t an actual organization with membership), a member of the alt-right, a terrorist, someone who hasn’t been called a terrorist because he is white, crazy, and someone dispossessed by rampant income inequality and capitalism.
What each of these categorical assignments really shows us is an unwillingness to face the only category that matters: murderer. I’ve met hundreds of Christians, hundreds of Atheists, and hundreds of Muslims in my life. Not one to my knowledge was a murderer. Not one conservative, or one liberal I’ve met is to my knowledge a murderer. Many of my friends struggle with mental illness– depression, social anxiety, schizophrenia, personality disorders– but none has taken the life of another human being.
Most people are good. Most people are kind and generous and only want the best for their families, their communities, and even people they’ve never met who live on the other side of the world. Sometimes people make mistakes, or act in self interest, or lie, or manipulate, or say things they regret. That doesn’t mean those people aren’t good, and deserving of second chances, or empathy, or understanding. Almost never, but all too often someone will walk into a church, or hotel, room, or classroom, or movie theater and start murdering strangers.
I think that’s the only category that matters in Sutherland Springs, or New York, or Las Vegas, or Newtown, or Pulse, or Columbine, or San Bernadino: Murderer. If we don’t scapegoat Muslims, or immigrants, or atheists, who do we blame? The murderer. Let’s not focus on him though. He doesn’t deserve the attention, and who cares what he thought his motive was anyway? Focus on the people. Remember the people who died. Learn their names, and their stories. Offer their loved ones support and love, and reprieve from the media. Don’t leave things unsaid, even if your spouse or child or friend is only going to church, school, or work. Spend the time you have being a good person however you can best define it. Make other people’s lives brighter in any way you can. Donate blood, make art, inspire people to enter science, do all the things that make life worthwhile. Do something with your hands or your mind to make the world better. Then, take some time to be sad.
We’re not just geographically close to this tragedy, we’re emotionally close. We know people who were directly affected. Victims are being treated at the University Hospital. Being sad is okay. We’re all sad, and we all deserve to be sad. Something cruel, and pointless and hard to imagine happened because a man chose to define himself once and for all as a murderer. How we choose to react is what will define us.
About the Author
Dr. Jonathan Berman is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio in the laboratory of James Stockand and in the Department of Physiology. Dr. Berman’s research has focused on the molecular origins of hypertension, and will expand to the physiology whole body magnesium homeostasis and associated diseases. The “Beyond The Bench” series features articles written by students and postdoctoral fellows at The University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio.