Recently, I’ve been thinking about humility and shame, due to how incredibly politically outspoken the Parkland teenage shooting survivors have become: In an unprecedented move, high school students organized public gun control protests just days after 17 of their classmates and friends were gunned down. They appeared on television interviews, taking the tone of purposeful journalists and well-connected gun control advocates, arguing that students everywhere are afraid and that the government needs to do something to make them feel more safe. One girl said, “The entire country is looking at us, waiting to hear what we have to say.” One boy claimed to have grabbed his camera and documented as fast as he could, because that was his “responsibility as a journalist.”
Let me be clear: I was not waiting to hear what a seventeen year old had to say about the shooting at their high school. Nor was I rushing to watch a seventeen year old “journalist” talk about assault weapons, bump stocks, or the NRA. In fact, I treated them as I treat every other person who’s undergone a tragedy: give them space to work it out.
Yet, many of these survivors didn’t want space. In fact, they demanded attention so they could make political arguments.
One interviewer asked a group of survivors why they thought their protests would be more effective than the parents of the Sandy Hook victims, whom had been for years lobbying for stricter gun control, though pretty much ineffectively. One student explained that since the tragedy happened to teenagers capable of articulating arguments, and not young children, then the country would actually listen to the gun control arguments. Reading between the lines, what he was saying is that the Parkland shooting survivors’ direct experience of a tragedy would successfully sway the American public toward controlling guns, since the Sandy Hook parents apparently only indirectly experienced it.
This is what got me to think about shame, perplexed about how these teenagers didn’t feel it after making such small-minded comments like these. No one calls them out on these awful comments though, because they’re not yet grown adults, but we’ll get to that dynamic shortly.
Do these survivors really believe that a Sandy Hook parent’s loss of a child is less relatable and influential to the average person and lawmakers than liberal teenagers publicly regurgitating gun control talking points? That because the parents of the slain Newtown children weren’t actually in the school that Lanza shot up, that everyday Americans would be more affected by gun control arguments made by iPhone-wielding Parkland teenagers? I’m sorry they lost classmates and friends, but I dare these “journalist teenagers” to look a Sandy Hook parent in the eye and tell them that their ongoing campaigns for gun control will always be less effective than Parkland-based campaigns simply because the parents didn’t directly experience the shooting. (After all, they only experienced the tragic loss of a child.)
Essentially, when we so quickly step into the limelight to make political points after a mass shooting, we marginalize and dismiss the actual victims and their families whether we know it or not. This does not honor them, despite believing that "calling for political change" is honoring them. This action makes it about popular politics, but more pointedly, about how we believe we need to be involved in the political discussion. Seriously, teenagers? Step aside and go to grief counseling instead.
In an interview, one no-so-humble girl said: “We are going to be the kids you read about in textbooks. Not because we're going to be another statistic about mass shooting in America, but because, just as David said, we are going to be the last mass shooting.”
When one is so hubris to believe such things, it reveals how they reject the indisputable fact that only history decides who is and who isn’t influential or effective. When one simultaneously predicts and promotes their own legacy like this, it reveals what they deeply want--adulation--which is what caused the hairs on the back of my neck to stand up. Not for nothing, but when Kanye West goes off about being the best rapper ever, and how he's going to change everything in hip-hop, people simply expect him to prove it. But with the Parkland survivors, we’re enabling this same type of grossly inflated ego through allowing them to live in the fantasy that they’re uniquely insightful and influential, when in fact the only thing remotely distinctive about them is how quickly they grabbed a microphone and looked for a camera.
The answer to why we enable them into believing they're unique freedom fighters is obvious; we view them as the teenagers they are. This treatment allows us to shelter them from the reality that they’re not revolutionaries, and that they’re merely jumping on a bandwagon of the political Left. Sadly, so many adults love seeing young people “so passionate about important issues,” because they have no issue using these outspoken, smug teenagers to push their own gun control agenda. I say, do your own dirty work, adults.
Real change takes long, hard work, much of it behind the scenes, and is generally thankless. In essence, it is earned, and as many activists and believers in a cause can account, acclaim takes a long way to come their way, if ever. But as I already said, the only reason these teenagers are allowed on television is because they’re aligning themselves with the politically correct side of hot button issues. They’re riding a wave, not causing one, yet we’re enabling them into believing they’re the Moon. So yes, they’re wasting their own time, and anyone listening to them: They need to view this time of their life as a learning moment, not a teaching moment.
Did Gandhi get in the Brits’ faces and tell them he’ll be remembered forever, and claim crazy things like everyone was waiting on his pacifistic words with baited breath? No, he sat silently, not identifying himself by any movement or political tone, and especially not a popular one. Thus, he caused change accidentally/organically. The Parkland teenagers might want to take a breath and stop wanting to be so goddamn relevant, because in reality (yes, I just treated them like adults), they’re not bold or original like Gandhi, or many other activists. They’re not walking the thankless path. They're walking the privileged path, which is ironic, because the political Left is allegedly against privilege.
Now, is it disrespectful for me to claim these outspoken teenagers are hubris? Well, if you think so then imagine someone else saying these words:
“The entire country is looking at us, waiting for what we have to say.”
“We are going to be the kids you read about in textbooks.”
Essentially, these Parkland survivors have been very clear they know they have many people’s attention. When one girl said, “We have a platform”, I cringed, because her wording and tone made it sound like she was happy to finally be a part of this country’s socio-political unrest. I could only watch a short amount of the CNN interview with the teenage “journalists”, because each in their own way had that politician-on-a-mission affect. But they’re not seasoned politicians, activists, or economists, they’re just kids lucky enough to survive a mass shooting. Their anecdotal experience does not make them an authority in the matter, nor do I think it’s a good idea for their youthful egos to get caught up in the media circus that doesn’t really care about them, despite interviewing them with such compassionate tones and wording.
Would shame of their hubris, of their need for attention, “fix” them? Of course not, but it would cause them to pump the brakes on calling themselves journalists and activists and claiming that they’re changing history. Humility would obviously be more effective than shame here, because it would allow them to have a much more objective perspective, but I’m keeping it simple: a little shame about how they’ve essentially acted like Pulitzer-Prize winning journalists would help them in the long run, because they’re setting themselves up for a life of being political ambulance chasers.
The Parkland shooting survivors believe their course—gun control—is the best way to change a culture that doesn’t merely love guns, but loves shooting them. They seem obtuse to the fact that our culture has loved guns for a long time, both during and after many gun-related suicides and mass shootings. This is just the ugly truth, and it’s born of the fact that our right to bear arms is written in our Constitution for the specific reason of protecting ourselves from a tyrannical government. I say this because this country’s love of the second amendment is very strong, because, unlike other countries, the reason for its existence is included in the very amendment.
My argument isn’t primarily about the Constitution, but it’s necessary to mention at least once, because the teenage “journalists,” much like the popular movement they jumped onto, bypass how the Constitution produced a unique perspective within Americans in relation to guns. Critiquing bump stocks and assault weapons and the NRA and Amazon has not, and will not, soften America’s perspective on guns, which has strongly developed over hundreds of years. This is why these teenagers have their head in the clouds; they’ll soon be passed over by the next big media event, either heartbroken or deeply offended: “W...What happened? I thought you loved us? I thought we were in this together?”
Let me ask another question that might fill out my thoughts on shame: If these teenage “journalists” weren’t throwing themselves into the media limelight using socially and politically relevant (aka trendy) arguments, is it possible the parents of the victims would be allowed to share their grief on interviews if they so chose, like the Sandy Hook parents could? Their self-absorption is so poorly masked as political activism it's crazy.
And is it possible that the parents of the Parkland massacre victims don’t want to hear about it on TV until they’re ready to be interviewed? But they now have no choice. That choice was stolen from them by teenage “journalists” who are convinced they’re changing the world.
Believe me when I say this, teenagers: no, you’re not going to produce the change you think. The only reason you’ve been fed, and have believed, the narrative that the “quicker and more fiercely you speak out for gun control, the more change you’ll produce”, is because subconsciously everyone knows that the attention span and righteous indignation of the American media, and the American public, is fickle. And since that’s true, you should probably ask yourselves how valuable and historically relevant you truly are, if you’re merely this month’s popular content.
Respect the families of the victims and have some shame.