Thursday, September 19, 2013

Catching More Flies: Peach Walnut Salad with Honey Mint Vinaigrette

I don't know about you, but this has been too much déjà vu for me.  Gunman with a history of mental illness enters a building to which he has legitimate access, opens fire, and mows down multiple innocent people.  An outraged public demands better gun control.  Media track down the gun purchase, only to discover that it's entirely legitimate.  A nation mourns.

My heart aches for the families of the dead.  But doesn't the fact that this continues to happen suggest that we need to consider a different approach to the problem?

As I've been following coverage of the event, I've been thinking a lot about Antoinette Tuff.  Remember her?  The Atlanta elementary school bookkeeper who averted the school shooting at McNair Discovery Learning Academy back in August?  If you haven't listened to the full 911 recording, you owe it to yourself to do so.  It's a remarkable example of our potential to humanize others, even in the moments in which they seem most inhuman:

Tuff begins the encounter by relaying the gunman's demands to the 911 operator.  But soon she begins to interject her own responses to his comments, and that, in the end, is what changes the situation.  In the moment when she chooses to validate him as a human being, to see him as something more than a gun-toting maniac, the monologue becomes dialogue: "He said he should've just went to the mental hospital instead of doing this because he's not on his medication. But do you want me to try - I can help you. Let's see if we can work it out so that you don't have to go away with them for a long time." As the conversation continues, Tuff connects with the shooter through her own vulnerabilities.  She talks with him about her own suicidal thoughts, her separation from her husband, her multiply disabled son.  And then, the part of the conversation that blows me away every time I hear it: "It's going to be all right, sweetie.  I just want you to know I love you, though, OK? And I'm proud of you. That's a good thing that you're just giving up and don't worry about it. We all go through something in life."

Love him? Remember, she is talking to a stranger who was, not minutes before, armed.

When, I wondered, was the last time someone said that to him?

What I don't understand is if Aaron Alexis was hearing voices six weeks ago, and actually told people about it, actually asked for help, why wasn't there someone to help him?  Where was the Antoinette Tuff of the Navy Yard?

There have been more "mass shootings" since Newtown than you've probably realized, since the FBI's definition of mass murder involves the killing of four people. Most of the shooters were unrelated to either most or all of their victims.  Most of them expressed some kind of desperation, some kind of estrangement, some kind of mental disturbance.  There was an insightful article in the NYTimes today about schizophrenia patients and the voices in our heads, suggesting that local culture plays a significant role in the manifestation of mental illness, and that if we--I would argue, patients and communities--treat unsettling voices with dignity and respect, then we can change them.
I'm not suggesting that we don't need to talk about gun control.  I have two small children, and I don't understand why civilians need to own semi-automatic weapons intended for military use.  But I also know that if someone wants a gun badly enough, he--or she--is going to get it, regardless of what the law says.  And I think that there's a lot of truth to the old adage about catching more flies with honey than with vinegar. 

We don't need all need to become social workers, or experts in dealing with mental illness.  But we can learn the equivalent of mental CPR.  And we need to see the mentally ill, instead of pretending that they don't exist, or that they're not our problem.  Because when someone decides to purchase a gun and kill twelve innocent people, it is our problem.

Isn't it about time we employed the ethics of care?

Peach Walnut Salad with
Honey Mint Vinaigrette

Here's a vinaigrette in which the tang is tempered by local honey.  Invest in a good one, because you will be able to taste it.

12 mint leaves, julienned
1/4 c. honey
2 T. rice vinegar
6 T. vegetable oil
pinch salt
4 or 5 ripe peaches, peeled and cubed
1/3 c. walnuts, toasted
8 oz. mixed greens

Whisk mint leaves, honey, rice vinegar, and salt in a bowl.  Continue to whisk while pouring in vegetable oil; mix until emulsified.  Add peaches and toss to coat.

Empty mixed greens into a large bowl.  Top with peaches and walnuts, and toss gently.  Serve.

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  1. You never stop blowing me away with your insight or through the stories that you share here. I didn't know about the "almost" shooting in Atlanta. It's such a hopeful story but not a surprising one. It's amazing what can happen when we take a moment to humanize and honestly connect with others.

  2. Great post. That woman deserves nationwide recognition and a medal of honor and also to be at the forefront of running classes or developing training in empathy and defusing dangerous situations. She is a hero.

    The idea of what could have happened that day still brings my heart to my throat. The fact that nothing has changed in gun control since Newtown is, to my mind, unacceptable.

  3. Amen!

    I agree that there is so much more to be done as far as services, support and dialogue about helping those with mental illness.

    I am always amazed to hear stories like the one you shared from Atlanta (which I hadn't known about) and heart broken to think how many other tragedies could have been prevented if those who choose to hurt others felt the love, support and acceptance that we all crave and deserve.

    Preach on, my friend...


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