Op-Ed: The complicity of silence

Wednesday, March 7, 2018 - 5:45pm

In today’s world, we’ve arrived at a place where our opinions and values are interpreted through the lens of “right versus left” or “liberal versus conservative.”  We allow these lenses to force us to pick a side, and in picking a side we forget that dialogue occurs so we can grow, exchange ideas and possibly contribute to society’s advancement.

Before becoming a graduate student at University of Michigan, I directed a successful state representative (Republican) campaign in Northern Michigan. I’ve voted for Democrats (including for President Barack Obama twice and Hillary Clinton). I’m all about pro-choice, fixing health care and infrastructure, supporting unions, equal rights/pay and moving society forward. I’m also a veteran who spent almost eight years on active duty, who had to carry a gun on occasion and respected the privilege of carrying that power by my side.

Now that I’ve said all that, I need to say this: Your silence on gun control or your support of the current administration's performance is a form of complicity. It’s not a right versus left issue. The controversy in our country surrounding guns is on each of us. It’s not about being pro-Second Amendment. It’s about us moving toward a better society and taking care of those we care about. By that nature, if we make a choice not to participate in this discussion, not to play an active role in bettering our society, then we are complicit in lives that are lost. Our silence is complicity.

In the military, across the five armed service branches, over the last 10 years, there’s been a huge emphasis on preventing sexual assault. It’s a good focus with a solid message. The military is working to change its culture. In doing so, one of the messages that exists is if you see something and you don’t say something, you’re a part of the guilty party. You could even be charged by the Uniformed Code of Military Justice. If you could’ve prevented a sexual assault and you didn’t, then you were a part of what went wrong. I am saying here if we don’t do what we can to change our culture in America, then we’re a part of what’s wrong. In the same way, if you vote for someone who refuses to lift a finger to change the gun culture of America, then there is blood on their hands, and by the very nature of your silence or support, your compliance and refusal to act, there is blood on yours too.

We’ve come to a place in America where we need to examine our conscience and our priorities. Can you imagine having a child and sending them to school, and then one day hearing the place they go to learn and grow was shot up? Can you imagine the dread? The helplessness? The fear? I cannot. We need to examine our priorities — the right to bear arms had some great thought behind it when it was originally created, but let’s take a minute to think about what that means today. If you’re an avid supporter of this right,’ you might believe it exists so you can protect yourself from the government.’ I have to ask, do you have any idea how we wage wars today? Through drones and computer technology. In addition, let’s take a look at a few historical examples of social change over the last 100 years: the Civil Rights era in America; South Africa, Nelson Mandela and the end of Apartheid; and India’s Independence and Mahatma Gandhi. Guns did not accomplish any of these.

I agree with the idea of creating more funding for mental health support. I also despise the arguments that “criminals will get guns regardless.” Just because someone will find their way around certain roadblocks doesn’t mean society stops trying to advance as a whole. It doesn’t mean we stop trying to improve lives. Do we stop trying to cure cancer because people will die in the meantime? Do we stop wearing seatbelts because people will get into car accidents? Do we stop fighting racism and classism because it’s institutionalized? Do we stop trying to save the planet because we’re killing it? As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “We will never be satisfied.”

According to the Oxford dictionary, the word “civilize” means, “to bring (a place or people) to a stage of social, cultural and moral development considered to be more advanced.” We are supposed to be a civilized’ society — which means we are supposed to be advanced. Advancing, by the very nature of the word, means to never actually stop. You don’t stop advancing, you don’t stop growing. If you do, you perish. Whether as a person or a society, that’s why social progressivism has worked. People and societies, by their very nature, must advance to survive.

We have to change our thinking and the laws in this country in regard to guns so we as a society can provide a better life for those we care about. We need to understand that to reload a weapon 250 years ago could have taken more than 90 seconds after a single shot, whereas today it’s different. We need to civilize. And do you know why? Because the right to shoot 45 rounds per minute does not negate the right for a beautiful little person to go to school without fear. Because our children, our sisters and brothers, our cousins, our friends and our families are counting on us to get this right.

We’ve stopped listening to each other in the name of our ideological stances, but not all issues have be right versus left. Survival and advancement shouldn’t be right versus left. If there’s elected leadership that refuses to take action to make our country a better, safer place, then it is our responsibility to lead that change. We have to work to create a more perfect union. That work never stops, and it doesn’t start with arming teachers, putting veterans at every school or surrounding schools with police officers. None of that forces us to take a look at ourselves. Guns are playing a role in the deaths of our children at schools. Read that again. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Our silence is perpetuating our insanity; our complicity is allowing our insanity to wreak havoc on our country. How long will we remain complicit?

Steve Smith is a Rackham graduate student in Sports Management.