Here we go again. I’m referring not only to the news of another mass shooting — this time at a Florida high school —but also to the inevitable collision of knee-jerk reactions. “If only we had stricter gun control laws this kind of tragedy wouldn’t happen.” “If only more law-abiding citizens carried firearms this kind of tragedy could be contained.” We trot out these tired, stalemating alternatives, replete with statistics and global comparisons, constitutional protections and religious prohibitions in the aftermath of every such offense against humanity as soon as the ambulances have driven away the bodies. Churches themselves offer little clarity, having become wholly-owned subsidiaries of one political party or another. There is no real political discourse, our elected representatives little more than shills for vested interests. And so nothing happens. No, that’s not true: people continue to senselessly die in the course of everyday, benign pursuits like attending concerts, dancing in a nightclub, and going to school.
Even if we cannot agree on a solution to these increasingly common outbreaks of anger, terror and fear, surely we can agree by now that our entrenched ways of responding to them aren’t helping. Indeed, our deadlocked insistences are only holding open the space for more violence to occur.
It’s time we declare a moratorium on trumpeting these binary alternatives. Regardless of the hypothetical merits of our respective points of view we are not convincing anyone with our “all” or “none” debates. Collectively we merely end up frustrated, increasingly estranged and entrenched, and doing nothing, blaming the recalcitrant “other.” Surely we can demonstrate more creativity than we have thus far brought to the problem.
Years ago Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, advocated “third alternative” thinking as a way to harness the synergies of conflicted voices. Neither “my way” nor “your way”, third alternative thinking likewise moves beyond watered down compromises between the two. Covey held up the belief that when patient, sincere advocates set their minds to possibilities beyond their original convictions third alternative solutions emerge that are better, richer and more resourceful. Hasn’t the time long-since arrived for us to give the pursuit of a third alternative a try?
So here we are again. How many times must we return here? I have my biases and convictions, but I don’t know the solution. The fact is you don’t either. I am convinced, however, that somewhere in our collective imagination, honestly and fervently joined, there is one to be found that years from now our children, who have actually lived to ponder the question, will wonder, “What took you so long?”