Staggering and soaring in response to Orlando shooting

This column originally was published by ECM Publications

Staggering and soaring in response to Orlando shooting

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Joe Nathan

Joe Nathan

Sometimes, as individuals and as a nation, we soar. At other times, we stagger. The tragic murders in Orlando were terrible. And make no mistake: Youngsters hear about these things. What should we be saying to them? We should talk not only about the tragedy, but also how others have, and we might, respond.

Many kids know about these mass murders. We don’t want to scare young people, but we should be giving them a chance to talk about it if they want to.

Who brings a gun to a nightclub and kills 49 people? Someone with huge problems, someone who should not have access to guns. And when I describe his action as a “stagger,” I don’t mean to minimize the terror and horror that he produced.

I think it’s important for young people to also know about and learn from the wonderful response of thousands of people to this tragedy. But first, it might help if we knew more about the victims. The Orlando Sentinel has posted information about each of the 49 victims here:

That same paper reported that hundreds of people in Orlando lined up to donate blood (read that story here:

Fred Rogers, who won many awards for his PBS TV program geared to children, described advice from his mother that seems relevant today: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” (Read more from the Fred Rogers Company about helping children in times of crisis:

People all over the country are trying to do that. Here in Minnesota there were vigils and a superb statement by Jana Shortal, a KARE 11 TV reporter who describes herself as “a gay woman.” She explained that her mom called her after the shooting to urge that she “stay inside.” Shortal responded that she is going to “live outside, in the name of love.” KARE 11 also is sharing places where people can contribute to help families of the victims. (Shortal’s statement and other information is here:

Families might want to spend time this summer on projects that help others. For some it will be raising money. Others will donate blood. Some will decide to work on gun control.

Doing something as a family sends a powerful, positive message to youngsters. Modeling by adults is critical. We need to show young people that we shouldn’t settle for being depressed and angry, and then shrug our shoulders and say: “There is nothing I can do.”

I appreciate and agree with Stephen Colbert’s observations in response to the Orlando shooting (watch the video at for his monologue in full):

“Despair is a victory for hate. Hate wants us to be too weak to change anything. Now, these people in Orlando were apparently targeted because of who they love. And there have been outpourings of love throughout the country and around the world. Love in response to hate.

“Love does not despair. Love makes us strong. Love gives us the courage to act. Love gives us hope that change is possible. Love allows us to change the script.

“So, love your country. Love your family, love the families and the victims and the people of Orlando, but let’s remember that love is a verb and ‘to love’ means to do something.”

We’ve been stunned and saddened by the Orlando murders. But standing up and taking some constructive action is how we soar – as people and as a nation.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, is a former director and now senior fellow at the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at

One Response to Joe Nathan column: Staggering and soaring in response to Orlando shooting

  1. Theodore Olson says:

    Great reflection, Joe. Thank you for grappling with Orlando for all of us. It’s still unthinkable to me. This kind of work requires fortitude.