Don’t Shoot or Stab or Bludgeon the Messenger

I will not die in this spot.

I’m sitting at my desk at a Southern California community college. It’s the best in the nation, at least from my biased perspective. But it could be any college. Or a church. Or a movie theater. Or a high school. Or an elementary school. Or a supermarket parking lot. It could be the university where I’m enrolled or a similar campus across the country.

This idiocy we’ve seen play out over and over again doesn’t discriminate by location.

That’s how I attempt to reassure my wife every time some anonymous person finds infamy while aiming at retribution for whatever grievance pushes them over the delusional edge. “I could still be working at a mall and the threat would be the worse.”

It never works.

But, I swear that this government-issued desk will not be the spot I take my final breath. At this very second, we are observing a moment of silence for the victims at Umpqua Community College; but, I won’t keep quiet. It’s my job — our jobs — to be vocal about this topic.

Here I sit — wondering how I’ll solve this problem. Certainly, that’s what I’m asked every time we hold an emergency drill, every time there’s an actual shooting elsewhere, every time that I send out a safety notification to our campus community. The students want to know. The faculty want to know. The media want to know.

None of us have the answers. If we did, the madness would end.

Too many ill-intentioned people have too-ready access to guns. But, those aren’t the only deadly weapons. Here in Orange County alone, we’ve experienced the murder of preschool children on a playground by a man who intentionally drove his car over them. We’ve seen a man slash his way through a grocery story with a samurai sword. A former colleague of mine bludgeoned his wife to death with a statue of a goddess. Guns are a tremendous part of the problem, though, and there are common-sense measures we can take to make things better in that regard. But no amount of regulation softens the fact that many among us really have no concern for our fellow inhabitants of this planet.

We don’t care for each other as individuals. We don’t know our neighbors. We’re detached from those who are both physically and emotionally close to us.

Changing that is a step each one of us could take at this very instant to make things better.

We spend our hours with heads drooped, staring at small glowing screens. They bring the world to our fingertips, yet add those same vast miles between us and those nearby.

It was just this type of device that delivered the news about Umpqua, while sitting in a room full of fellow communications professionals at conference in Las Vegas — all of us in higher education, some from neighboring towns of that tragedy. Later that day, at McCarran International Airport, I authored the draft of a statement about the Umpqua shooting on behalf of our president in response to a reporter asking us to comment on what we were doing to prevent such a scenario. Prevent it?!? Seriously? Nobody can prevent it, so how are we to be any different? Of course, that’s not what our media statement said.

Still, that sentiment hung heavily as I entered the airport’s gift shop a while later to find something to bring home to my sons. After selecting some playing cards and dice, I waited to pay. And waited. And waited while the lone employee of the store was engaged in conversation with the male half of a couple. When that never-ending transaction finally ended, I attempted to joke with the cashier so she knew I wasn’t overly frustrated with the delay. It took just a second longer to realize that she, however, was clearly shaken by the prior encounter.

With plenty of time before my flight and thinking about the need for people to connect, I tried to ease her jitters. I don’t remember most of what Maria told me, but she shared the impact that community college had on bringing her to Nevada. Her goal was to transfer to a local university to build a better life for herself. It was an opportunity available to her only through community college.

As I walked out of the store, I did so with a renewed sense of what we as educators and communications professionals do in our day to day. It is to open doors for people like Maria. As a result, I felt a deeper and renewed connection to the job that — in the most-ridiculous manner possible — puts me in harm’s way.

I’m sitting at my desk — the very spot where I refuse to die. A tear hangs in the corner of my right eye. I don’t cry. But gravity’s got a good grip on this one. I don’t want to cry and I’m tired of seeing that reaction — people crying — on the news. We need to try a different path.

So if I pass by and offer a smile, a hello, or a waive just know it’s because I refuse to die at this desk.

In the wake of deadly events at Ohio State and USC, which bookended the week of November 28, 2016, I decided to edit and share this piece I wrote about a year ago. It was authored primarily as we observed a national moment of silence for the shooting victims at Umpqua Community College.

About Marc

Marc S. Posner | @marcposner — Storyteller. Spokesman @CypressCollege. Recovering journalist. USC grad student (Class of 2017). Expect: Hockey, space, aviation, public relations, marketing, comm, Apple, higher ed.
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5 Responses to Don’t Shoot or Stab or Bludgeon the Messenger

  1. Shane says:

    Hello Marc,

    This was a very powerful blog post. I appreciate the honesty and humility with which you wrote it.

    Increasingly, the world feels like it is becoming a more scary place. I think about this all the time as a parent wondering about the world my kids will live in when they’re adults. You’re right that we need to care for each other more as individuals. While we would all love for our children to become professional athletes, doctors or rocket scientists, I feel my job as a parent raising my kids is to ensure they turn out to be good and decent people who make positive contributions (whatever they may be) to other individuals, their community, society and the world.

    My hope is that most people who are parents feel the same way about the responsibility they have to raise their kids to do right by others and live by the “Golden Rule.” But just think if I didn’t have to hope and it was a fact that parents raised their kids to be helpful, respectful and kind. Maybe you wouldn’t have ever had to think about dying at your desk…

    All my best,

  2. Barbie says:

    Thank you for sharing this. It was beautifully written. When shootings happen, if I stop and really think about it, I nearly always break down crying thinking of the what-could’ve-been’s and completely unable to fathom how someone could inflict their inner turmoil onto others in the form of utter violence. And then I go around hugging people, which, depending on the circumstances, some people find just as odd, yet it is oh so needed. The world could do with more compassion and affection.

    • Marc says:

      Thank you, Barbie. I really appreciate your compliment. I wrote this a while ago with the thought of maybe doing something with it after grad school. After the murder of Prof. Bosco Tjan, I felt moved to share it here, even though it wasn’t my turn to post.

  3. Lindsay King says:

    Hi Shane,
    As a journalist, it breaks my heart every time we report on these attacks. It’s hard to separate yourself, push ahead, and not get emotional. But, once I get home and try to unwind I immediately think of families who won’t see their loved one again. I will say with the increase in violence I am more aware of my surroundings, but I refuse to let fear control my life. I love my walks on campus at USC. I like going to the mall. I refuse to let violence change me to closing myself off from people. Thank you for your post.