Thoughts And Prayers Mean Nothing Without Common Sense Gun Control Laws

Source: Resonant Muse/Facebook

Like archived stock footage, we’ve seen this happen time and time again.

Breaking news alerts flood social media as reporters broadcast live footage from the scene on every major TV network. It’s slow at first, but soon information begins to flow alongside images of students and teachers as they evacuate the school to escape the armed individual wreaking havoc inside. Everyone scatters as they rush to safety, their arms raised to prove they’re not the threat. Practice drills could never have prepared them for the terror and carnage they’ve just witnessed.

But well before the survivors have found refuge in the arms of loved ones, and long before the casualties have been counted, lawmakers take to Twitter and Facebook to offer their thoughts and prayers to the victims and their families when, in reality, they should be apologizing for their inaction and their greed.

Mass school shootings have become almost routine in the US. We’re so desensitized now, in fact, that these tragedies often fade from the national spotlight mere days after lives are irreparably shattered. Congress and news outlets might be able to allow the memory of the given massacre to fade, but for the residents of Parkland, Fla., in this case, the wound may never fully heal.

On February 14—Valentine’s Day—Nikolas Cruz killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School when he ambushed students and administrators with a semi-automatic assault rifle. Despite being a day dedicated to love, this southern town will forever remember this date as one filled with death and destruction.

Now, as residents grieve those taken too soon, survivors and supporters are calling upon Congress to turn their half-hearted thoughts and prayers into common sense gun control laws in order to prevent this sort of killing spree from happening again once and for all.

Within the first 45 days of 2018 alone, the US has seen 18 school shootings — that’s an average of one attack every 60 hours, and that’s beyond unacceptable when you pause to consider that every single death or injury could’ve been avoided if only Congress valued innocent lives more than the almighty dollar. After all, we elect these lawmakers under the assumption that they’ll always have our best interests at heart, even though their personal interests are all that inevitably come into play.

Despite the public outpouring of thoughts and prayers, many GOP representatives and Congressional leaders are beholden to the National Rifle Association (NRA) because they’ve accepted millions in donations from the controversial organization over the years. Thus, while they are doling out their condolences online, they’re only thinking about how they can spin public perceptions and praying that gun control debates calm down in the coming days so they, too, can emerge from this atrocity unscathed.

Bess Kalb, writer for “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” spent the aftermath of the Parkland shooting responding to GOP tweets with the amount they’ve accepted from the NRA to date. Donations indicate the given official’s likelihood to favor less strict gun laws, as they profit from the money made off these unstable murderers. Every dollar that crosses their palm represents the blood on their hands, for every time they avoid enacting the common sense gun laws citizens so desperately desire, they become an accomplice in the murder of another innocent victim.

As Everytown’s latest commercial states: “It’s not too soon to talk about policy change. It’s too late.” Lawmakers believe pouncing on the topic of gun control so soon after a mass shooting politicizes the tragedy, but the fact that such attacks continue to happen with such frequency because of the lax laws these officials condone makes each instance inherently political. By not acting in the heat of the moment, officials allow the outrage to simmer so other issues may consume the national conversation, enabling them to dodge the issue — until the next mass shooting occurs, of course. By ignoring the huge death toll, these supposed leaders prove that they’re, in fact, being pulled around by their purse strings.

When Donald Trump took to the podium to address the Parkland massacre Thursday, he assured: “We are here for you — whatever you need, whatever we can do, to ease your pain.” He emphasized that he would work to enhance school safety and improve mental health care in America.

However, nearly one year ago this month, Trump quietly signed a bill rolling back an Obama-era regulation that made it harder for people with mental illnesses to purchase a gun. That’s right! One of his first orders as president was to essentially put guns in the hands of the mentally unstable because he, too, was swayed by the NRA. In the moment, he says one thing in an effort to placate the public, but like his colleagues, his words rarely lead to action.

Promises mean nothing if they’re empty. Thoughts and prayers are worthless when there are ways to prevent tragedies without the need for divine intervention. GOP members cannot claim they’ll be there for these survivors when they’ve proven that they don’t truly care in the past. If they did, they would have enacted stricter gun control laws after the 2012 killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. If the deaths of 20 small children couldn’t coax these supposed leaders into action, nothing ever will.

Source: Elizabeth Banks/Twitter

Our elected officials clearly don’t care that our nation’s children have become collateral damage in their support of the NRA. Thankfully, many of these survivors will be able to vote in the next presidential election. If Congress won’t act on their behalf to prevent future deaths, they can express their disgust at the polls, thereby dealing the blow that finally (hopefully) takes these reprehensible gun laws down for good.

(This post originally appeared on Storia.)

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Why Children Should Have School On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Despite having just returned from the holiday break, all schoolchildren eagerly await the middle of January, as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day marks their only reprieve during the cold, grueling month. Yet, while the three-day weekend has become tradition, affording kids the opportunity to sleep late hardly awakens them to Dr. King’s incomparable contributions in the fight for civil rights.

Instead of allowing children to slack off on MLK Day and other such commemorative holidays that spawn those long weekends everyone adores, students should spend the day learning about the person or event the given day was designed to honor.

On Presidents’ Day, schools should devote the day to teaching kids what our nation’s leaders have accomplished since signing the Declaration of Independence. On Columbus Day, schools should teach kids how the explorer’s discovery impacted the native population throughout the country. On Veterans Day, schools should teach kids about the sacrifices countless women and men make every day in their effort to  serve and protect America.

And on MLK Day, schools should honor his legacy by teaching children about the Civil Rights Movement and the ongoing battle for racial equality, which seems especially prescient in today’s volatile social climate. When the President of the United States insists on using foul language in reference to those of racial and religious minorities, it’s crucial to teach kids that intolerance isn’t the answer. Dr. King never backed down, no matter how much oppression he faced, as we should honor his persistence by continuing his fight for justice.

Of course, this doesn’t mean students should be confined to the classroom. In fact, MLK Day stands as an ideal time to encourage kids to volunteer within the community. Helping those in need in any regard remains right in line with Dr. King’s goals for society.

Students often learn more from hands-on experiences, as interactions with those in need can teach them more than any textbook ever could. By getting involved, they’ll learn that they, too, can make a difference in the world, as even the smallest gestures can have the biggest impact on others—and that’s definitely something you can’t learn by spending the day at home.

(This post originally appeared on Storia.)

Why Posting Photos of Your Children on Social Media Isn’t Always Welcome

Source: Pexels

Long before smartphones and social media came to be, people had no choice but to carry physical photographs if they wanted to show their friends and family images of their recent vacation or kids’ recital. Grandparents would whip out their wallets instead of struggling to upload pictures from their digital camera.

But now that anyone can post photos to Facebook or Instagram within moments, users rarely hold back. From brunch plates to birthday parties, everything’s fair game (even if no one needs to know you’re on your third mimosa). However, just because you can post any and every photo you so desire, that does not mean you should.

Now that the people who joined Facebook upon its inception are beginning to start families of their own, the social media platform features more baby photos than your average mall portrait studio. People insist on sharing photos of their kids’ every waking moment. Personally, I love when parents wish their child a lengthy “Happy Birthday” on social media even though the kid isn’t old enough to read, much less manage an account of their own. Everyone knows those who commit such acts are merely fishing for compliments. (But that’s the underlying essence of social media, isn’t it?)

Beyond this element of self-indulgence, however, these incessant posts demonstrate an innate level of insensitivity that disregards the feelings of those followers forced to endure this flood.

Most proud parents and grandparents are too caught up in their joy to notice that many others aren’t so lucky. They brag on social media not because they are malicious, but because they’re consumed with happiness. But what about those who are suffering silently? How about those friends and family members who’ve desperately tried to expand their own families, only to find they can’t conceive?

While I cannot assess the situation based on personal experience, every new photo reminds me of how devastating infertility and miscarriages can be. Of course, it’d be rude to deny those lucky families the opportunity to bask in their joy, but they also need to understand that the photos intended to spread smiles might spark sorrow for others.

Social media often breeds narcissism, after all, as most users care about little more than the image they convey to the outside world. Perhaps if we showed more thought and concern for the emotions people hide inside, however, we’d breathe new life into the compassionate planet we hope to leave for these little ones in the first place.

(This post originally appeared on Storia.)

No, No, No! Five Seasonal Don’ts Everyone Does During the Holiday Rush

Source: Pexels

Santa sees you when you’re sleeping, and he knows when you’re awake, but when you opt to do something stupid during the holiday season, everyone’s quick to judge.

But just because you commit an act that might be misconstrued as naughty doesn’t mean you aren’t genuinely nice deep down! Explore this list of the most pervasive yuletide don’ts so you’ll know what to do when the elves threaten you with coal:

  1. Don’t buy friends and family fragrances or lotions they didn’t explicitly ask for or hint at recently.

While fancy fragrances and expensive lotions might seem like an elegant last-minute gift for those grasping at ideas, these goods send mixed messages (and aggravate allergies) at best. Unless you’re confident that the recipient will enjoy the specific scent—for instance, they’ve expressed interest in the fragrance before, but complained they couldn’t handle the price tag—your gesture might actually seem rude. Are you trying to offend them by implying that their odor offends you? Because an economy-size bottle of body wash will achieve the same result (and save you money, too).

Source: Pexels

  1. Don’t allow your children to run amok in the mall while you stand idly by on your smartphone.

Modern parents seem incapable of teaching their children to behave like civilized human beings in public. They allow their kids to chase one another and touch the merchandise unsupervised, while they talk on the phone or browse the Web. Don’t you realize that your children reflect who you are as an individual? Oh, and if they somehow manage to injure themselves, don’t even dare to sue the establishment. After all, Santa knows when you’ve been bad or good—and so does the security footage.

  1. Don’t ship your company’s goods in packaging that blatantly advertises the brand for all to see.

Brands regularly slap their name or logo all over the packages they ship throughout the year. But, during the holiday season, this form of free advertising no longer seems like the smartest sort of product marketing. Families often live in the same house, after all. What if the recipient returns home before the gift giver can hide the package from sight? What if, by putting the name or logo on display, the company has ruined the surprise? Also, “porch pirates” are more prevalent than ever. Your company might as well attach a neon sign that says “TAKE ME” at that rate.

  1. Don’t hit your fellow shoppers with your enormous bags as you barrel through the busy stores.

With heavy coats and bulky scarves galore, people tend to take up more space during the winter months. Yet, while overcrowded corridors and overstocked stores might be enough to trigger even the slightest case of claustrophobia, we all have the power to alleviate stress by simply being more aware of our surroundings. When walking forward, look straight ahead to ensure that you don’t collide with your fellow shoppers. Don’t stop suddenly to check your cellphone or correct your course. And above all else, account for your abundance of bags. They’re now an extension of your person. If they hit me in the gut, I’ll assume they’re carrying out your orders.

Source: Pexels

  1. Don’t plaster your family’s Christmas card with photos of your children or your pets.

When friends and family send “greeting cards” that are really just 5×7 glamour shots of their children or pets, you’ve got to admit that you instinctively roll your eyes at the sight. Everyone understands that snide comments abound upon opening said envelopes, as they’ve done it themselves, yet people still send these unwanted portraits to even the most remote relatives. Don’t try to convince me that this option allows your nearest and dearest to observe your family’s growth. If that were the case, you’d simply slip an actual photograph inside the cards of those who care. Except we all know better—these cards were invented by those who love to brag.

(This post originally appeared on Storia.)

Tracee Ellis Ross Empowers Women to Live Life According to Their Own Rules

Source: Essence

While Tracee Ellis Ross plays the mother of five on ABC’s Black-ish, the actress herself lives an entirely different life.

“It’s really interesting to be a woman and to get to 45 and not be married and not have kids,” Ross said as she began her now viral speech at Glamour’s Women of the Year Summit last week. “Especially when you’ve just pushed out your fifth kid on TV.”

During her 11-minute speech, Ross detailed how society treats women who remain single and childless, and how cultural expectations diminish our gender for not conforming. Drawing from personal experience, Ross explored how ambition doesn’t always align with the so-called norm.

“I grew up planning a wedding… But I also dreamed of winning an Oscar and being on the cover of magazines and making a difference in the world — helping women find our voices. And from that dreaming, I have built an incredible life. I have become a woman that I am proud to be,” she said.

“And then someone tells me about their friend who adopted a child at 52 and how ‘it’s never too late for your life to have meaning,’ and my worth gets diminished as I am reminded that I have ‘failed’ on the marriage and carriage counts. Me! This bold, liberated, independent woman,” she said. “I’m killing it! So, why? Why do I get snagged this way? As if all that I have done and who I am doesn’t matter.”

She explained that society constantly tells young girls and women that “being chosen and having kids” are the end goals for anyone who wishes to lead a meaningful life. In her words, “husband plus child equals woman.” We aren’t complete unless someone deems us worthy of their love and progeny.

Source: Good Housekeeping

But with four simple words, Ross realized that, despite her success, she was still being sucked in by societal influence.

“I’m sitting there free writing, maybe conversing with my inner child, and I write down: MY LIFE IS MINE. My life is mine,” she said. “Those words stopped me in my tracks and honestly brought so many tears to my eyes. Seems so obvious, but obviously it wasn’t. Because I have NOT been living my life as if it was my own… I have to put myself first and not be looking for permission to do so.”

Ross continued by explaining that, when women speak out or stand up, they’re condemned for being themselves. Women are regularly persecuted for stepping outside the accepted bubble of womanhood because the patriarchy feels threatened by those who don’t follow the “rules” their forefathers set in place. But, as Ross said, she’s going to have to break an agreement that she never officially agreed to in the first place.

“That agreement says: We are here to be of service to others, that our destiny is to live in the shadow of men. That we are simply objects of desire, and that we are willing to live with having our voices stifled again and again by the misogyny of our culture.”

Instead, Ross promised to her reality and her dreams and let those elements be her guide as she navigates her individual life. In the same breath, she invited the women in the crowd to do the same.

“Join me for a moment and imagine: What would it be like for women to completely own our own power, to have agency over our own glory and our sexuality, not in order to create a product or to sell it, or to feel worthy of love, or use it as a tool for safety, but instead as a WAY OF BEING?” she asked the audience.

Women need to stop thinking of themselves in respect to others around them. We must focus on who we are inside in order to understand who we are to the outside world. We were not put on this earth to please anyone but ourselves. We owe the men of the world nothing and, with Ross’s words echoing among us, we must recognize that we have countless allies who believe we’re worthwhile because of who we are, not who we love.

There’s nothing wrong with following the traditional path — the one paved long ago that says we should make stops only to pursue marriage and family. But we cannot chastise those who choose to forge their own road through the fields and forests that line the way.

Life isn’t linear. We’re all meandering along in some way or another. You zig. I’ll zag. If we meet again along the way, at least we will do so knowing that we were our brave selves, as Ross said. Our whole selves. The complete, real, true people we were always meant to be.

Read Ross’s full speech here or watch the entire presentation below:

(This post originally appeared on Storia.)

Stop Using Social Media as the Scapegoat for Society’s Demise

During the early morning hours of May 7, Nicki Minaj took to Twitter to help fans in need. Over the course of this dialogue, Minaj agreed to pay out an estimated $30,000 of her own money to help the fans in question afford their college tuition and school supplies. While many critics might be skeptical about the motive behind her random acts of philanthropy, it’s hard to ignore that Minaj’s generous soul would never have connected with these struggling individuals had it not been for social media.

Of course, it’s easy for people to focus on social media’s failings. It promotes narcissism. It’s an unyielding distraction. It hinders everyone’s attention span. However, along with the bad, we’ve been exposed to a world of good that outweighs any negative sentiment. We now have an outlet for connecting with people outside our immediate circle, allowing us to learn and grow in ways we never could have before its creation.

Thanks to Twitter (and the Web, in general), we have the opportunity to remain abreast of international news in real time. Yes, there’s an enormous amount of content to sift through at any given moment, but by adopting healthy social media habits, it’s simple to filter through what’s important and what’s frivolous fluff. You see, those who claim that social networks drain people’s time and ruin kids’ attention spans are those who’ve failed to master healthy social habits themselves. All good things must be consumed in moderation—even media. We may live in the era of the Netflix binge, but that doesn’t mean such behaviors are smart. When used properly, social media arms us with the tools necessary to dismantle widespread ignorance and hold public figures accountable. Social media acts as the weapon we need to effectively fight for what’s right.

Following the U.S. presidential election, for instance, voters quickly took to social media—in some cases to celebrate, in some cases to express their disbelief and anguish while establishing the foundation for what’s now known as The Resistance. Women came together via social to plan and execute the Women’s March on Washington, as well as its sister marches across the world. And organizations, such as Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, have turned to social media to mobilize supporters and bolster donations. Without such outlets, these groups never would’ve come together so quickly and effectively. Without social media, it would’ve been much more difficult for these like-minded activists to find one another and turn their mutual disgust into productive outreach.

Even in less extreme cases, social media has the potential to make people feel less alone. Prior to social networks, outcasts likely felt that there was no one else in the world who understood their struggle. But, by being able to express their emotions online, many have found support they might’ve otherwise gone without. Those with minor grievances can also take solace in social media, for the memes and comics that rule the space demonstrate we’re not as alone as we once thought. (No, you’re NOT the only one who feels that way!) Critics will argue that social media has the opposite effect, as Facebook and Instagram posts often make said outcasts feel even more out of the loop than before, but when you stop to evaluate the new connections at their fingertips, it’s easy to see that social empowers them to change their situation for the better.

Face it—bullies will never cease to exist. There’ll always be people who tear others down in order to make themselves feel superior, no matter their platform of choice. But it’s our responsibility to teach today’s children how to navigate these new networks. Our parents taught us how to handle the challenges that came along with growing up, and we’ll have to do the same. Kids still have to face the same battles, even if they’re fighting on uncharted battlefields. Remember! We’re the ones who created this supposed mess, so we’re the ones who will have to right the course. We will have to teach them how to limit their screen time. We will have to teach them how to be mindful of others online. We will have to teach them not to idolize the manipulated images and personas they see across platforms.

Parents and authority figures who believe social media has ruined today’s youth are merely projecting their own insecurities, for they exhibit these less than stellar behaviors themselves. They’re guilty of deifying the celebrities they follow, and checking their phones excessively. They’ve become addicted to refreshing their feeds and awaiting new notifications. Yet, each time another adult gives their child an iPad or smartphone as a stand-in for an actual caretaker, they perpetuate the very problem they wish to rectify. Unless we take responsibility for how we conduct ourselves, we will never be able to alter the issue at hand.

Until then, critics will continue to focus on social media’s failings and blame these networks for what’s wrong with the world. Social media isn’t without its flaws, of course, but we mustn’t overlook the value it brings to the modern world. As with any tool, social can be used for good or evil. Let’s remember what social media can help us accomplish—as was the case with Nicki Minaj—before we vilify these networks once and for all.

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(This post originally appeared on Storia.)

We’re All Flying “Han” Solo

Why Validation Must Come From Within

As I grew up, I began to realize that the concept of actually growing had been lost on my DNA.  Even now, as a 23-year-old woman measuring just less than 5’, the short jokes get tossed about like a football.  (Cue traumatizing “Monkey in the Middle” memories.)  However, this then hurtful teasing eventually taught me the greatest character-building lesson of all – to defend myself and embrace my personality, humor and talents regardless of how petite the packaging appeared.

We live in a world fixated on conformity, so to find children who highlight stereotypes and ostracize others based on their interest or appearance simply comes naturally as they mature.  How one handles the situation often indicates whether such experiences turn out to be successful life lessons.  And for Katie’s mother, grace did not come into play when her daughter’s choices were under fire.

The entire fiasco began when Katie came home from school upset one day, only to confess that her male classmates teased her about bringing a Star Wars water bottle to school for lunch (though how they’ve managed to neglect her matching Star Wars backpack, I will never understand).  As her mother, Carrie Goldman, explains, Katie happens to be quite an avid Star Wars fan, but refused to carry the bottle any longer after the boys claimed Star Wars was not for girls.  When faced with a child breaking into tears, most mothers would console their child and teach them that they are special for there never has been and never will be another person like them in this world.  Most teach children to love themselves and embrace their differences despite the potentially overbearing opinions of others.

Instead, Katie’s mother hopped on the Internet to tell Katie’s story and solicit the help of strangers all across the globe.  Though she simply intended to find a few female sympathizers, Ms. Goldman seems to have underestimated the universality of childhood teasing.  And while it appears we have another heartwarming story of people coming together on our hands, we are actually witnessing the extent of the dangers the Internet poses to this young generation that has never known a time without Wi-Fi.

The Internet, you see, provides a forum for instant gratification.  With social networking now an integral part of our daily lives, we need only hop on our computers or Smartphone to gain access to a world of strangers looking for the exact type of approval and validation our dear Katie desires.  Instead of finding people who accept Katie for her differences, Ms. Goldman has simply found hundreds and thousands of people who are exactly like Katie, emphasizing a power in numbers and sameness, not the strength of individuality.  How will Katie ever truly appreciate her personality if she seeks those just like her every time she feels shunned by her peers?

Generations upon generations of children have survived such relatively harmless teasing, and all have emerged stronger and more self-assured than when they began.  Never once in this whole entire ordeal have we learned that validation must come from within and that self-confidence can only come to be when you are fully satisfied with yourself.  And to even attempt to equate such teasing with the severity of bullying as it has appeared in the news as of late has no concrete bearing, for children are bound to clash.  Tolerance and acceptance begins at an early age, and much bigotry comes from the unsavory values of one’s parents.  Promote confidence and independence throughout your child’s formative years and have faith in your efforts as a parent, for every child is different from another.  And while Dec. 10 now also stands as “Support Star Wars and Geek Pride for Katie” – a judgmental name in and of itself as it implies Star Wars attracts only “geeks” – not every child will find their mother scouring the Internet for support.  The rest of today’s youth will simply have to learn to love themselves the old-fashioned (and seemingly antiquated) way.

Photo courtesy of Chicago Now