The antidote to hate: Americans should try to answer senselessness with civility

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As my husband and I prepare to bring a child into this world, I am more scared than ever. As a resident of Columbia, Md., the recent shootings at the Mall in Columbia hit too close to home. All I can think about is whether it will ever be safe to drop my child off at a mall, a movie theater or college. Can our shared spaces ever go back to being safe places?

My heart aches for the victims. Sadly, I have the pessimistic sense that headlines about such violent acts against innocents will soon become utterly unremarkable, if they aren’t already. It is easy to lose hope.

But I have to believe it doesn’t have to be this way. If we can come together as a nation, a community, a family, then maybe, little by little and over time, we can break free of this awful recurring nightmare.

There is a dreary, familiar pattern to these things: Immediately following a shooting, we draw closer as a community. But, then, as the weeks and months pass by, we fall back into our normal routines and thoughts, and we forget. We pull apart.

We get so caught up in debates over gun laws and mental health issues because we want to figure out why the senseless happened. That is a natural instinct. This passionate discussion shows me our nation is thirsty for change and answers. But let’s be realistic: As important as changing our gun laws and fixing our mental health-care system are, progress in these areas is going to take quite some time.

What can we do now, instantly?

There is one thing I can think of: Bottle up a sliver of the energy and passion you put toward defending your personal and political opinions and “choose civility,” the Howard County, Md. motto. In the wake of this unfathomable tragedy, let’s show the world that we can step back from the anger and hatred that seems to course through this country.

Don’t get me wrong: It is our constitutional right and duty as Americans to advocate for what we believe. I don’t mean to suggest that anyone stop. Go ahead, write letters to your local officials. Join online discussions. Spread the facts about gun laws and mental health care. Keep fighting the good fight. But choose civility as you do it.

“The one thing I would ask is for everyone to take a moment . . . and rededicate ourselves to doing what we can to make our world a better place,” Howard County Executive Ken Ulman said at a Jan. 26 news conference. “We are better than this.”

He’s right, we are. Make small changes to your daily routine. Hold the door for a stranger. Wish another commuter good morning. Make space for a driver merging onto a crowded highway. Disconnect from technology after work to enjoy family time. Talk to your children about their day and reassure them you will always be there for them, come what may. Who knows? It might be contagious. Someone you encounter could choose to be civil to someone else, all because of you.

Or perhaps just start with a smile. It’s not hard to imagine how a simple smile to a stranger, delivered at the moment it was needed most, could save a life.

I hope that by 2019, my 5-year-old will live in a different world. I’m not so naive as to think the problems with our gun laws and mental health-care system will all be sorted out by then. But at least I can envision a world with more smiles. They’re easy, and they’re free.

Stephanie Block is a resident of Howard County, Md. She wrote this for the Washington Post.


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