November 12, 2019

Are Survivors Inherently Gifted?

Ever since the killing of seventeen people at a Florida high school on Ash Wednesday, the media have selected a handful of students who supposedly represent the anti-gun views of not only a majority of their classmates but also a majority of American teens. Whether that is true or not is not the focus of this essay.

My concern is the despicable behavior of the leftist media and politicians. These two groups have done everything they can to create the impression that these students are blessed with almost supernatural wisdom and that the country would be blessed if it would only listen to them and adopt their ideas about guns and what to do with them.

One cannot help but wonder how they gained this superior wisdom. Have they done extensive research on the Constitution and the Second Amendment? Have they conducted an in-depth study of the Federalist Papers? Have they written thoughtful essays on the history of gun rights in this country and why the Framers thought it necessary to include the right to bear arms in the Bill of Rights? As far as I know, they have not. In fact, prior to the shooting, these kids were known only to their classmates, teachers, and parents and were not state or national figures. And now they have become experts.

No one doubts that a person who survives a traumatic event certainly may have a unique perspective on such an event, but that perspective does not automatically confer wisdom. Wisdom about any serious subject takes years to acquire. During those years there is an enormous amount of studying, most often under the direction of experienced experts. A few seconds or even days of fear do not an expert make. But if the media can elevate a survivor to expert status to promote an agenda, it will do so in a proverbial heartbeat. 

I’m inclined to believe that this apotheosis of survivors is a relatively new tactic. If we look back over tragic events in history, we will find that survivors often had personal stories of courage, self-sacrifice, or heartache. Their accounts inspired readers or brought them to tears. Sometimes books were written about their escapades, and some of these books were turned into successful movies. Lauren Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, the riveting account of Louis Zamperini’s life and his incredible suffering during WWII, is one such book that comes to mind.

But after the war, Zamperini was not considered an expert on U.S. government policy. He was not asked to give lectures on military strategy or to lead rallies for or against the war effort. Instead, he came back from war and struggled to overcome an alcohol addiction that nearly killed him. Yes, he was a survivor of extraordinary courage and willpower, but he was not an expert on war.

When the planes crashed into the World Trade Center, thousands of people were able to escape before the buildings crumbled into dust. All of them were survivors of a horrific event. Still, none of them, despite their good fortune, were considered experts in terrorism or the engineering failures of high-rise buildings subjected to intense heat. Yes, many of them had incredible, sometimes heart-wrenching, stories to tell, but there was no sudden expertise that the public should be compelled to listen to. 

Nine years ago, I suffered a mini-stroke. It led to a pacemaker implantation but, fortunately, no physical disabilities or physical restrictions. I guess one could say that I am a stroke survivor. But no one in their right mind would consider me an expert on strokes and the prevention thereof. No medical school should invite me to speak about the modern methods of treatment for stroke victims. I am simply a survivor–nothing more, nothing less.

The media do a great disservice to this country when they use survivors, especially children, to promote a particular political agenda. Yes, they should interview those people and hear first hand about their traumatic encounter. But that’s where it should end. If the media want to discuss an important issue, then bring in the experts on both sides and have an honest debate. And while the debate goes on over the coming days and weeks, let the survivors recover from their ordeal in peace and quiet so they can begin the healing process. That’s the truly humane, truly wise, thing to do.

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Written by
Thomas Addis

THOMAS ADDIS is a retired high school teacher and published author, most recently authoring a children's book, A Gift of Light, which is available at Amazon. An M.A. graduate of Oakland University, he is Associate Editor of Catholic Journal. In his spare time, he enjoys reading and cycling.

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Written by Thomas Addis
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