Commentary, Opinion

Shootings are the convulsions of a society in decline

By Dan Smith

Editor’s note: Dan Smith is president and CEO of the Vermont Community Foundation, which is based in Middlebury.

We are out of words. The list of available adjectives is too commonplace to hold any real meaning. These events are not aberrations of a functioning society — they are the convulsions of a society in decline.

This May alone, we have seen mass gun violence touch Santa Ana, California, and Buffalo, New York — towns in two deep blue states — and now, Uvalde, Texas, perhaps the reddest state in our union. This is not a condition that is red or blue; it is an American condition.

It is senseless, right? But what seems “senseless” to the witness observing it, frighteningly, must be sensible to the mind filled with hate and fear and clouded by illness. It is both sick and sickening.

We feel sadness, hopelessness, fear, compassion, but most significantly, a drive to do something, to do anything, coupled with a feeling of being frozen in place. We feel afraid that the depth of the hate, fear and illness, coupled with the routine and pedestrian accessibility of guns in America, means that whatever is done may not prevent the next event from occurring before another day passes. Afraid also that our capacity to fix things, to keep the promise we make to younger generations that things can get better, is part of the mounting count of casualties.

So today I write what we, as the Vermont Community Foundation, will continue to do in the face of these losses.

We will continue to find and fund hope. Our mission is to make a difference and to believe that it is possible to do so with the spirit of giving and the kindness that informs it.

We believe the antidotes to hate and alienation are love and kindness. The antidote to fear is hope. The antidote to isolation and mental illness are health and connection.

When young people see Vermonters working hard and still falling further behind, it is not reasonable to expect faith in our institutions and leaders. When our next generation feels left out by their community and left behind by the world at large, we’ve left fertile ground for fear and hate to incubate in the darkness of isolation.

At the Community Foundation, we remain resolute in our commitment to closing the state’s opportunity gap — knowing that life might not be easy, but it can get better. We do so through giving as an act of kindness, care, and connection that offers a sense of hope and potential — qualities missing right now.

We will support youth and families from cradle to career and community engagement. Every young Vermonter deserves to know they have a pathway to success and a place they belong. We will strive to lead with compassion. Community is the shared experience of place — our community is only as strong as each member’s experience. This is the fuel that powers our work and our vision of Vermont at its best.

We will continue to learn and educate ourselves how equity, race and belonging factor into all aspects of our work. To do better, we must be better, and we’re committed to that.

And every day, we will do our job to address the conditions that let hate and fear and isolation — those fertile grounds for illness and violence — fester. That includes listening to what Vermont communities need right now. We encourage you to let us know your thoughts on how collective philanthropy can help offer every Vermonter an opportunity to thrive.

When these things line up, we see the compass pointing to a future much brighter and full of hope. And yet, a compass only points the way. This path is ours to walk together — as donors, as nonprofit organizations, as civic leaders, as employers, as individuals, as neighbors, and as policymakers. Faith in our institutions is faith in each other.

We remain committed to doing our job as your Community Foundation.

It is time for Congress and federal policymakers to do theirs.

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