After Saturday's horrific shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords and murder of six of her constituents in Tucson Arizona, it didn’t take long for people to start politicizing the terrible event. By Monday morning all the shows talked about dialing down the political rhetoric and the importance of gun control. A GMA “politics of vitriol” report took targeted, vitriolic shots at Sarah Palin while a Huffington Post writer posted a bizarre article about the second amendment. Few commentators spoke the truth.
The tragedy in Tucson on Saturday was committed by a crazy man. There would have been no shooting in Tucson and seven people would be starting their Monday mornings today as usual if there hadn’t been some crazy man on the loose. In our society, we don’t like to say things like “crazy” because it offends the crazy people. And therein lies the problem. We are so politically correct that we ignore the real issue: rampant mental illness.
Jared Loughner should have been in a mental institution. It was apparent to the military when he was rejected for service, his school wouldn’t let him return without a letter from a mental health professional and other people noticed there was clearly something wrong. But everyone just left him alone, some out of fear for their own safety. No one said anything to authorities. And if they had, there isn’t a great likelihood that anything would have happened. Until they commit a crime, the authorities have little recourse. There has to be a better way.
I know from the inside what happens with people like Loughner because I grew up with a mentally ill sibling. My sibling was the smartest of us, almost brilliant, but “moody” (as my parents would call it). My mother made endless excuses for anti-social behavior. Teenage problems were pushed aside as “a phase” and so was an obsession with conspiracy theories (which later surfaced as paranoia, which included being spied on by the government). When I expressed my own early concerns about my sib’s mental health, they were dismissed as sibling rivalry. When there was a wedding, followed almost immediately with children, most of my family breathed a sigh of relief, as though all was well. But it wasn’t. Everyone just wanted to ignore the facts and did - right up until the first suicide attempt.
My stories of living with someone with mental illness match those of countless families everywhere. Because of that, when I give a keynote or workshop and there is context for it, I talk about mental illness. Always there are several people who thank me afterward for being open and honest because they too suffer the pain of having a mentally ill family member; they are often ashamed and embarrassed by it, and the stigma prevents them from discussing it.
This morning, as I buzzed around online, I felt heartsick and angry by what I read in articles and on the blogs. Maybe it feels safer to condemn guns and conservative views rather than asking anyone to insist on personal responsibility as a reason for why Loughner killed. But we need to speak the truth: crazy people live among us and crazy people do crazy things. Yes, they need help not ignorance but pretending they are sane isn’t doing it for anyone. Until we give up the need to be so politically correct or delight in using any excuse to push a partisan agenda, we will continue to have crazy people like Loughner roaming around destroying the lives of others and stealing our freedoms, as well as their own.
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