Ways of Seeing, Joanna Colwell: How do we keep from getting numb?

There are about 10 days between when I send in my “Ways of Seeing” column and when it runs in the paper. So when I type the words “Americans are reeling from yet another gun massacre” I do so with no confidence that by the time you read this, there won’t have been another, even more recent, shooting spree.
It’s depressing as anything to realize that while supposedly 80 percent of U.S. citizens support common sense gun legislation, our country is being held hostage by a terrorist organization, the NRA. I call the National Rifle Association a terrorist organization because the NRA is dead set against any law that would restrict ANYONE from owning ANY firearm. They are so opposed to any kind of limits that they do not even want federal funds to be used to STUDY the effects of gun violence in the United States.
In this great country of ours, people are killed every year by toddlers. Can you even imagine the life long scarring of inflicting a lethal gunshot wound on your parent or sibling, as many small children do each year? While these kinds of horrific accidents are all but unknown in most countries in the world, in the U.S. toddlers shoot people on a weekly basis.
Domestic abuse is a problem in many countries, but unique to the U.S.A. is the tendency of abusers to use guns to threaten, to violate, and to, with chilling frequency, kill their partners. Cases where a man who has abused his wife or girlfriend then empties bullets into a crowd of people include the recent church shooting in Texas, the Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooting, and the Las Vegas massacre of last month.
A few weeks ago, when revelations about sexual assaults committed by Harvey Weinstein and other powerful men dominated the news cycle, I started several of my classes with the acknowledgement that a lot of women feel triggered and emotionally raw as more and more assaults and incidents of harassment come to light. A typical yoga class is at least 75 percent women, and statistically a great many of us will have experienced this kind of dreadful behavior, whether from a male relative, a teacher, a boss, or a colleague. So it felt right to say out loud, in a space dedicated to healing and truth, that a lot of pain is close to the surface.
What I want to do is draw a direct line from denigration of women to gun violence. What I want to do is uplift the voices that have not been heard, and protect those who feel unsafe. Can we look at our society as a web of relationships? We have family relationships, work relationships, relationships to the farmers who grow our food, the teachers who educate our children, the legislators who we elect to govern our country. We also have relationships with the police, the people who sew our clothing, the corporate executives who run the financial systems, and the people who manufacture and sell firearms.
So many of these relationships are out of balance. Why should one in four women be the victim of severe violence by an intimate partner at some point in their lives? Why should a man who has been convicted of domestic assault be allowed to purchase a deadly weapon? Why are a tiny group of Americans who reap profits from selling firearms dictating gun policy in the United States? Why are the rights of someone who stockpiles arms more sacred than the rights of the rest of us to go to school, or church, or the movies, without getting shot?
According to recent polls, eighty to ninety percent of Americans support a federal law that would require background checks on all potential gun buyers. If such a large majority of citizens want these kinds of safety precautions, why can’t they be signed into law? Because the NRA, which is the lobbying arm of the gun industry, has used its financial clout to influence elections across the country. And weapons manufacturers actually see their profits increase every time a gun massacre happens here. Because with each new tragedy, weapons enthusiasts who are fearful of new restrictions passing, go out and buy more guns.
It is up to every one of us to work for balance in our relationships. If you are a being victimized, please seek help to keep yourself safe. If you are using your power over another person, if you are bullying or threatening someone, stop right away. If you are a gun owner, please join this conversation. Do you use your guns for hunting? Fabulous. Can you please talk with your gun-owning friends and agree that no one needs to own an assault rifle?
It is long past time to stand up to the bullies who make our world unsafe. It is long past time to teach young boys and men that it is wrong to assert power over women and girls. The president of the United States boasted about committing sexual assault, and 53 percent of white women voted for him anyway. Could that be because worldwide, when we look at gender differences in economic participation, educational attainment, political empowerment, and health, the United States comes in at 31, behind Bulgaria and Namibia?
We have to believe we are better than this. Our gender identity should not determine whether we get to feel safe at work or at school. Our American identity shouldn’t mean we might get shot at church.
Joanna Colwell is a certified Iyengar Yoga teacher who founded and directs Otter Creek Yoga, in Middlebury’s Marble Works, and lives with her family in East Middlebury. When not practicing or teaching yoga, Joanna enjoys taking walks, cooking, serving on the board of WomenSafe, and working with the Middlebury chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice. Feedback welcome at: [email protected].

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