There are some words in the English language which have so many meanings that they are impossible to accurately interpret without context. “Mass” is one of those words.
I suppose my first definition of mass would have been religiously based, mass as a noun, as a destination on Sunday mornings and holidays like Christmas Eve. It is a place of peace where rituals provide comfort to the faithful. As someone who doesn’t even practice a formal religion, I find mass to be a safe location for spiritual exploration and community. Mass is good.
When I was a student, I struggled with understanding the word mass when it was used scientifically. Mass and weight confuse me the same way medians and averages do, I don’t really get it without making an effort. Mass can be difficult to comprehend.
Often mass is used as an adjective. I’m certain you’ve heard the phrase “mass hysteria” or “mass appeal.” Mass can convey a state of contagious or collective behavior, a condition that typically defies logic or explanation. Mass, when used as a describing word, can suggest downright madness.
Today, I sought the definition of yet another use of the word “mass,” as in “mass shooting.” I was curious to know what that term meant; especially after hearing our country had hosted 355 of these in calendar year 2015 alone. Yes, 355, more than one a day, every single day. How could that be possible?
Well, it seems that there are different definitions of what constitutes a mass shooting. Is it an occurrence in which a minimum of 3 or 4 people have been killed or injured in acts of gun violence? Do we include cases of domestic abuse? How about gang violence? Should we only count the indiscriminate acts, like the ones we witnessed in Sandy Hook or Colorado or do we merely focus our attention on the ones which are perpetrated by shooters who don’t resemble “us” in color or creed?
I don’t have any answers only a wish that mass could once again be a word that describes a place of refuge and sanctity rather than a situation which is impossible to understand and wrought with insanity.