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We are all trying to make sense of one more heartbreaking school shooting. In our grief, it’s easy to resort to black-or-white thinking, as we attempt to feel less helpless by deciding who or what to blame. But like most problems, this one can’t be reduced to any single issue, and we have to grapple with the complexity.

The use of the term “mentally ill” to describe people whose behavior we don’t understand has become commonplace. This is unfortunate and misleading. There is no mental health diagnosis that defines a person who was failed by family, has become lost to community, is alienated and desperate, and has access to weapons of mass destruction. We are talking about a top-down national failure to prioritize health, human services, and education; to support vulnerable families at the most basic level; and to provide adequate resources for communities to help their most fragile members. We are talking about a culture that still expects men to meet stereotypical definitions of “masculine,” provides no support for them when their lives are broken, but will readily sell them assault rifles. One in which our leaders break laws and brag about it on social media.

Do not resort to inaccurate and reductionist thinking in an effort to feel better. We don't need to feel better, but to grapple with the complex truth and each pick a place where we can make a difference. Then act on it.

Patricia Berman

Corvallis (Feb. 20)


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