When I was a little girl, I had a recurring dream throughout my first few years of elementary school that involved masked gunmen breaking into my classroom and killing my friends and teachers. I can remember waking up in sweat and tears some nights and running downstairs to seek comfort in my parents’ bed, but when the morning came, I always brushed it off as just another irrational fear and safely made it to and back from school.
Although these dreams have faded with age, recent events have caused me to experience similar fears that are no longer so irrational. Rather than having nightmares about Marvel-like villains infiltrating my elementary school, I have found myself in a state of paranoia at movie theaters, concerts and sometimes even my own college campus. It has become a habit to spot the nearest exit when I enter a room, and I often find myself scanning the area for suspicious behavior. No longer am I surprised when a CNN Breaking News notification lights up my phone to announce another mass shooting, but the paranoia always worsens and its triggers are multiplied.
Apprehension aside, the fact is this: the world is, and always has been, a dangerous place.
The commonalities of abuse and rape cause women to feel unsafe walking alone at night, Amber Alerts and child abduction cases lead parents to panic when their child misses the bus, hate crimes cause minorities to feel unsafe amid hegemonic peers and threats of violence throw schools into lock-down. While it seems most of these types of violence have decipherable motives, many of the recent mass shootings appear random in terms of purpose, targets and location, causing gun violence to be an unpredictable issue in which nearly everyone is at stake.
In the U.S. alone, there have been 353 mass shootings in 2015—the term “mass” meaning four or more people were shot during the incident—and there is no sign that the trend will cease anytime soon. Whether it involves terrorism, mental illness or mere hatred, gun violence is becoming a recurring problem in modern society that, despite varying political convictions, has no perfect solution at this point. This being said, it is important that we remain aware and acknowledge gun violence as both rational and unpredictable, while also maintaining our peace and sanity.
I have found that it is very easy to perceive the world in an entirely negative light after an instance of mass murder makes the headlines, and while this is a natural and empathetic reaction, it is an extremely detrimental way to live life. Studies have shown that there are strong negative effects of prolonged pessimism, anger and sadness, which often include anxiety disorders, depression and even poor physical health. On the other hand, research has shown that optimism—or “inclination to hope”—has shown positive correlations with strong mental and physical health, social functioning, satisfaction and quality of life.
This is not to say that we should not be sensitive to the victims of mass shootings or that we should ignore the problem of gun violence, but we must also not lose sight of the love and beauty that surrounds us.
I acknowledge that maintaining an optimistic outlook on life despite the continuing gun violence is easier for those who have not been directly affected by these tragedies, and that we cannot even begin to understand their grief. But what we can do is embody the force that best battles hatred, anger and fear: love.
Psychiatrist Dr. Janet Taylor recently said that Americans can cope with these shootings by returning our values to community and love despite our culture’s acceptance of bullying and selfishness.
“Think about the people around you and who you can touch and how you can balance the trauma with something good,” Taylor said. “It’s about recognizing how you feel, practicing safety, and talking to the people around you to bring back love and peace and prayer.”
Though it may seem cliché, I strongly believe that love and compassion are stronger forces than fear and hatred, and it is important that we not let ourselves become divided in these dire circumstances that require unity.
Collegian Columnist Laurel Thompson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @laurelanne1996.