- A sociopath became fanatical about his religion and held over a dozen people at gunpoint in Sydney for a full day. I woke up the next morning to learn that two of those people had been killed (and the gunman).
- Before I went to bed that night, news had come in of a shooting at a school in Pakistan where 132 children were killed.
- HSC results (for NSW students, the biggest and final exams of their high school days) were released
That list might seem odd and unrelated, and truthfully, I don’t really know how to make sense of it all together myself. How do we lead lives that swing so quickly, not only from secure to horrific, but back to joyful again? How is it that these kinds of events seem to change us, yet today I lived an entire day that was no different to a day I might have lived a year ago?
After my facebook feed was exhausted with links to “Gabrielle’s year” things, family and friends started doing another one that is meant to look like a newspaper with the “headlines” of people’s lives this year. I noticed how the number of happy headlines far outweighed the number of tragic ones, the inverse of a real newspaper. Perhaps that’s because we tend to share our happiness on social media far more readily than our sadness, or perhaps it’s because we tend to “like” and comment on things that show our friends being happy. But for me, I think it’s just because my friends and I are really lucky. We don’t send our kids to school with the very real fear that they might be shot before we see them again. When a siege happens in the city I grew up in, it takes up the entire news broadcast because we’re all horrified by the idea that that sort of thing can happen here. The enemies we’re acclimatised to are different – heart disease, dementia, domestic violence, drunk drivers.
The media described the gunman as a terrorist and an extremist, both perfectly accurate words that nonetheless might not have been used if the gunman had looked different. I read about innocent victims and ignorant racists, and thought about how innocent and ignorant might just be different spins on the same idea: uninvolved, unaware, uneducated. I was reminded again that the words we choose are powerful, not just for communicating our own views, but for subtly shaping the way other people think about the topic of conversation.
As I read about that shooting in Pakistan, I learned that schools are actually a common target for the Taliban. It's an idea that seems pure evil: targeting your attacks at those who are least armed. But it's also because Malala Yousafzai is absolutely right: education is their biggest enemy. Every person whose life you change may go on to change more lives, but every life you end, just ends. Teach compassion and compassion grows exponentially. Teach nuance, teach critical thinking, teach communication.
Educate and there will be fewer gunmen.
So perhaps when I look back at the events of the past few weeks, HSC results shouldn’t stand out as the mundane or the “return to normal life”. They should be the very thing that highlights the difference between the fear and the festivity. Not because of the HSC itself, but because the students who sat it were required to communicate their ideas, to test the ideas of others, to argue without weapons and to look closely at the world around them.
They have no idea how lucky they are.