For over 30 years, I have consulted with regard to and studied virtually every type of crisis imaginable (man-made and so-called natural disasters, criminal, environmental, ethical, financial, PR, shootings, terrorism, etc.). As a result, I am the least of all persons to dispute or downplay the horrible carnage and trauma that far too many crises leave in their wake. To be sure, this is their most immediate, visible, and onerous consequence. Nevertheless, one of the least acknowledged and least studied aspects of all crises is the extreme havoc they wreck with the innumerable taken-for-granted assumptions we make about our selves, others, and the world in general. In a word, major crises like the recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut shatter our world in multiple ways.
From the standpoint of assumptions, no matter how unalike they are on their surface, crises are eerily alike. For instance, in studying the aftermath of the 1995 bombing of the Federal building in Oklahoma City, it suddenly became clear to me that three major, taken-for-granted, and largely unconscious assumptions were completely torn to smithereens by the horrific tragedy. That is, not only was the building and even worse the bodies of innocent people blown up, but at a deep level, the assumptions that we use to guide our lives were blown up as well:
1. Terrorism does not happen in the heartland of America; terrorism only happens in Europe and the Middle East.
2. An American would not commit an egregious act of terrorism against his or her fellow citizens.
3. And innocent men, women, and worst of all, young children would not be killed to make some unfathomable point or further some senseless cause.
Sadly, the preceding types of assumptions are perfectly general, and therefore, with little change, apply to Sandy Hook as well:
1. Our town and schools are exempt, protected, etc. from horrendous catastrophes.
2. One of our own -- a member of our community -- will not go on a rampage.
3. And worst of all, the most vulnerable members of society will not be killed right before our eyes in the worst possible ways.
In short, the basic assumptions that all of us depend on and use daily to make sense of the world are in far too many cases completely shattered ("blown apart" is not an overstatement). In the most general terms, these are: the world is stable, orderly, and predictable; we can trust our fellow citizens; we are safe in our homes, schools, and in public generally; etc.
Of course a completely safe, orderly, and predictable world is not given to humans. But this is beside the point. The fact that we can't prevent all crises is no excuse for not doing all that we can to lower both their chances of occurrence and their disastrous consequences.
All of this is of course a prelude to our culture's completely out of control addiction to guns and violence. With regard to guns in particular, I believe that the time for talking to gun nuts (not "responsible gun owners") is over. By definition, gun nuts will never be open to reasoned argument. The fact that the odds of killing a family member as well as the chances of suicide increase exponentially if one has a gun in one's home is completely lost on gun nuts. All that matters is their self-centered reasons for owning guns. The lives of young children pale in comparison. As a result, I'm through trying to reason with them or counter their fear and paranoia, let alone respond to their narcissism.
If ever the time was ripe for political action, it is now. If this isn't a tipping point, then god help us. Among many things, the time is now for responsible gun owners to found a new organization that can counter the NRA.
We have to do everything in our power to break the deadly grip of the most dangerous guns so that we don't have to go through the repeated cycle of endless deaths and the crash of our most fundamental assumptions.
Ian I. Mitroff is an Adjunct Professor at UC Berkeley, a crisis management expert, social philosopher, and social scientist.