It was 6 am and I was surrounded by a group of my summer co-workers. We were waiting for our shift to begin, checking our phones, when one of the workers moaned and said, “Oh my gosh. Another shooting. Are you kidding me right now?” Someone else replied, “Another day, another shooting” and the conversation carried onwards until I asked, “So, where was that shooting at?” “Munich,” replied my co-worker, “but it was only eight people”.
Am I the only one slightly disturbed by the way we talk about these tragedies? Obviously, a diminutive phrase such as “only” to express the inherent dignity of the eight individual persons who were unjustly killed is not acceptable. What struck me the most was the treatment of a tragedy as a cultural norm. If this was the first time I have heard acts of violence similar to this be treated as everyday news and gossip, I probably wouldn’t be writing this blog post. But, it is from seeing it on social media so many times and conversations like these that I am starting to become convinced that many in today’s culture see mass shootings as an ordinary occurrence.
I think what we have lost here is our understanding of our relation as individuals to community. We have forgotten we are not merely individuals that just live next to other individuals. Between all of our “me’s” there is a “we”. This “we” calls us to solidarity. Karol Wojtyla speaks of this in depth in “Acting Person”. What binds us to this community is each individual’s participation in the common good. This common good can be aimed at collectively by individuals in the process he calls participation. He says, “The common good is obviously the good of the community” (251). This good of the community respects the fact that each individual is a person and seeks to allow his flourishing as such (252). Thus something so essential as existence is a guarantee in true communities.
As I have been reflecting on this language and the loss of a sense of tragedy in response to these crimes, a memory from almost a year ago keeps coming back into my mind. A group of my friends and I travelled to Munich. One of the first things we did when arriving to Munich was pick what we actually wanted to see and what was secondary. The primary list was: Hofbrauhaus, Dachau, and the Olympic park. I’m sure you recognize one of those is not like the others. Dachau was the first concentration camp built by the Nazis. While we knew we would be paying our condolences at Auschwitz and Birkenau later in the semester, we still felt bound to go to Dachau. But, why? None of us had any direct relation to prisoners in this camp.
It is solidarity that bound us to those prisoners and still binds us to Munich and many other places today. At first, solidarity may seem irrelevant in the faces of these terrorists. Wojtyla says, “Solidarity is to some extent a restrain from trespassing upon other people’s obligations and duties or from taking over as one’s own the part that belongs to others” (255). Is this not exactly what is happening? Creatures are taking the role of the Creator and dictating their self over a fundamental right to existence we all have as persons.
Recognizing solidarity as a necessity, it still seems irrelevant considering the fact that I am not a member of these communities that have been terribly affected. But after reflecting on what constitutes the foundation of my own community, I realized individual persons are at the center of it. Each person is created for and thus sets the norm of community by their very nature as person. Wojtyla says, “It is the community of men, of all men, the community formed by their very humanity that is the basis of all other communities” (319). It is what Wojtyla calls the "personalistic norm": persons by their nature are to be treated with proper dignity. This personalistic norm must shape our communities as well. We have to give persons the space to become fully themselves.
This is why when my friends and I got to Dachau we weren’t the only foreigners. There were people from literally all over: Africa, South America, Canada, Germany, Asia, France, and who knows from where else. We came here to unite in what is the common good: the upholding of the dignity of the persons.
The question still remains: what do I, as a twenty year old American, do in response to these tragedies? Even though we seem to have little else binding us together, I am bound to these victims in our humanity. And, these horrific events demand a response from me as a member of the community of humanity. I have wrestled long and hard with this question of what to do because as much as I want to change the world, it is not going to happen over night. But, what I can do is create an atmosphere of solidarity in my own community.
Through my relationships and friendships, I can strive toward the good for others. I can help them strive in their own pursuits of their good. According to Karol Wojtyla, “Solidarity signifies a constant readiness to accept and to realize one’s share in the community- within that because of one’s membership in a particular community” (255). When this requires me to go beyond what would normally be my duty because other members are not participating in the community, I will chose to keep going. I wish I could tell you this is an easy choice. It would be really easy to wish vengeance on and to swear at the men and women who have obliterated their fellow men and women and dismiss their actions as lunacy. But, how does this restore what has been lost? I do not see how this is going to give persons the space to be persons, to mature, flourish, and grow. So, I have decided what I will do. To these tragedies, I will respond with love.