Reflections on Mass Shootings, Good People of the World, and Dementialand

There was another mass shooting last Wednesday. Well, actually two mass shootings. One in Georgia and another in California.

I wish I could tell you that I was irrate when I first heard about the shootings. I wish I could tell you that I was sick to my stomach when I saw the news. The truth is…I wasn’t.

Maybe I’m a horrible and cold person. Perhaps I don’t care about other people–but I don’t think that’s the case. I think there’s another reason I had virtually no reaction to the shootings.

It’s a tolerance effect.

There are a lot of shootings in America. You can argue about why this is happening. You can fight about gun control. Sometimes I feel like there are so many of us who disagree on what we should do that nothing will change, but I’m not here to discuss any of that.

What we can agree on is that this happens too much. And that is exactly the reason that I didn’t have much of an emotional response.

A mass shooting? Just another day in America.

A couple weeks ago I had to go through an active shooter training at the university where I am faculty member. I guess it’s just something you do if you work at a university. To be honest, I didn’t think much of it.

I feel myself getting less and less (rather than more and more) appalled at each mass shooting. I’m ashamed to tell you that. Each and every shooting is absolutely despicable, disgusting, and appalling. It’s horrifying to me that I seem to be, in a sense, getting used to these shootings, even those that occur on college campuses similar to the one on which I spend quite a bit of my life.

On Wednesday night, I started thinking about how bothered I was that I wasn’t more upset about the shootings. And that’s when I got sad. I got sad that I seem to have hit a level of “acceptance” about mass violence.

I was upset at myself for not being more sensitive. I was upset because the world isn’t the place I want it to be. I was upset because, if I’m being honest, I don’t see things getting better any time soon.

Sometimes the most positive moments come just when you need them. Thursday was a pretty good day.

I took five college students with me to hang out at an adult day center for people with dementia and intellectual disabilities.

Sure, I work with a few college students who annoy me. I can’t lie. Some of them are entitled. Some of them aren’t always honest with me. And some of them are only out for themselves.

But a lot of them are pretty awesome. And these five college students? They are the reason I work as a college professor. They come with me to the adult day center because they want to–not because it will be a line on their resume (although it should be a line on their resume). Maybe they are going to ask me to write a letter of recommendation for them someday so they want to impress me, but that’s not why they come either. They come because they are good people and because they honestly, genuinely think it’s fun to spend time with those who have dementia and cognitive challenges.

Let me tell you about my students. One is a Psychology and Gerontology major who is looking for an internship with hospice in the spring. I was at a conference in November during the time we normally visit this group, and she led the activity–and thanked me for trusting her enough to give her the opportunity. Another (a rare guy in the Gerontology major) wants to someday administrate a nursing home. He happened to be wearing a sharp business suit because he had a presentation for a class later in the day. Our friends with dementia loved the suit. Another is a Social Work major with a Gerontology minor who might want to someday be a school counselor. She’s having trouble deciding what to do with her life because she loves everyone and everything. (I’ve told her several times that this is the best problem to have when it comes to career decision-making.)

I had two late additions to the group. I met one a couple of months ago because she works for university relations and wrote a story about our program for the university website. She has a grandpa with Alzheimer’s and was interested in the community service that we did. She happened to randomly email me the night before and I invited her to tag along. She brought a friend, who turned out to be absolutely delightful.

When we arrived, I stepped in to another room to say hi to a staff member. In about 30 seconds, I came back into the main area to find my college students had all struck up conversations with the participants. It was loud. Lots of people were talking about lots of stuff. Some of it made sense. Some of it didn’t. If I were a person who got a tear in my eye in moments of joy, I would’ve had a tear in my eye.

Here is what is fantastic…I don’t have to coach them to spread out and introduce themselves. They don’t clump together in a corner like kids at a middle school dance. They just start talking to people like they’ve known them for years. If people don’t respond verbally, they don’t care. They continue to interact with them. They roll with the punches.

So we sat around for 45 minutes about talked…about chinchillas and how they take dust baths (yes, that’s a thing), about what a pain it is when your roommate beats you to the bathroom in the morning (something that is common for both college students and adults with intellectual disabilities who live in group homes), about whether India is a state (a guy with dementia insisted it was and my students just went with it).

It wasn’t an earth-shattering afternoon by any stretch of the imagination. It was just a bunch of people in different stages of life with different abilities hanging out, talking, and doing a lot of laughing. Now that I think about it…and I really didn’t think about it until right now…we even had some ethnic and religious diversity. It reminded me that this world can be a pretty cool place.

That day something occurred to me. There are lots of people making a positive difference in our world. Most of us make a difference in small increments…a little bit at a time…just by being who we are. Think about it–you will likely make a positive difference to someone today. It will likely be a small thing, or maybe a bunch of small things, rather than a grand gesture. That’s how life works. It takes a lot of dedication and time (and some chance) to make the evening news as someone who makes the world a better place.

It takes a lot less dedication and time to make the evening news as someone who makes the world a more negative and scary place. It takes less than five minutes with an assault rifle.


2 thoughts on “Reflections on Mass Shootings, Good People of the World, and Dementialand

  1. I love your blogs as you know and again this is yet another exceptional one. I agree which is sad in a way also. I wish this hasn’t become the “norm”, I wish I didn’t have to reaffirm with my grown children about being diligent in their awareness everywhere they go, work, restaurants even the dmv.
    You and your students also help me to realize again there are still wonderful people out there with a true and sincere motivation to help and to become friends with us with this disease. I wake every morning different, bad days – good days, but the one thing that is consistent is my wish to help as you do in so many ways. I joke with my husband that God will give me that note under the door of where to go, what to speak about and make sure there is clear understanding about this horrible disease. And just maybe, a person like yourself would walk into my life to help me fulfill that wish.
    Thank you again for your insight and feelings. I know it makes my day to read all that you post. Thank you.


  2. Your work sounds very satisfying. And I can relate to feeling numb to the latest shooting, although it’s made me more aware of people and my surroundings. It could happen anywhere. Let’s hope our elected officials will do the right thing sooner rather than later to spare the lives of our fellow citizens.

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