Linda Downing

Life is full of triggers

Increased use of an old word — “trigger” — signals an alarming trend. It is not only the lever that fires the gun but also that which inspires the pulling. It fortifies our already popular excuse mentality, turning loss of temper and committing of crimes, not to mention ordinary selfishness, into something we “just can’t help.” Well-known sociologist, Dr. Martha Beck, writing for Oprah magazine, says it is “our culture’s get-out-of-jail-free card.”

We all have triggers, things that set us off because we associate them with other things. The question is whether we choose to recognize and redirect them or give in and explode.

Specially observed days, like this Sunday’s Mother’s Day, can trigger joy or depression. Abraham Lincoln said: “All I am, or can be, I owe to my angel mother.” Not everyone can say that — some because they never knew their mothers — others because they did.

Frazier Glenn Cross, accused in April of shooting and killing three people outside two Jewish community sites in Kansas City, is triggered by anything and anyone not matching his “white supremacy” doctrine. His defense may plead insanity or post-war stress for this bloody rampage (Cross is a Vietnam War veteran). The truth is that Cross’ whole life is saturated with Ku Klux Klan activities, Nazi slogans, and his own definition of “white patriots.”

Strong, negative emotions may appear irrational until we identify what triggered them. If childhood was ruined by an alcoholic or chain smoker, just the smell of beer or tobacco may

produce rage. If that feeling transfers to being asked to vote on whether to legalize medical marijuana in November, we will fail to consider all sides of the issue. Our consciences work better based on sound thinking than goaded by triggers that either deaden or hyper-sensitize us.

Number 11 of this past December’s Tribune list of “50 things we know now that we didn’t last year” will trigger dread and fear among those who focus more on man’s hate than God’s love. It informed us that a new type of Botox, believed to be the deadliest substance known to man, has no antidote. An adult inhaling 13 billionths of a gram will die. If the DNA sequence to produce this killer falls into the wrong hands, then it is a nightmare come true.

We can arm ourselves against negative triggers and look for the positive. In April, the positive took the form of bereaved mother Samereh Alinejad. Seven years after Bilal Gheisari’s knife sliced through her son’s neck, the murderer stood in Royan, Iran, a noose around his neck, waiting for Alinejad to kick the chair out from under him. Instead of exercising her eye-for-an-eye privilege, Alinejad removed the noose and forgave.

Perry Martin and Steve Coburn entered their unknown horse from a one-horse stable in the Kentucky Derby last week. To get there, they had ignored being called “dumb asses,” not letting words trigger defeat. That spur sparked DAP Racing—“Dumb Ass Partners.” California Chrome, unaware of being a dumb ass, won the Derby by 1¾ lengths.

Life is full of triggers. In Romans 12:1-2 Paul begs us to present our bodies and minds to God for his use. That act triggers transformation above the fray instead of conformation to it.

Finding truth requires the right starting point. That is the quest of this column. If we seek simple truth, we can find it together—side-by-side.

Linda M. Downing is a freelance writer. Contact her at