I know. I know. You have all been inundated by this whole gun violence thing and you don’t want to see another thing about it. I've been feeling the same way. In the constant deluge, I've been hesitant to say anything about all this... but it's here, and it's real, and unfortunately, it does not seem to be going away. Let me be clear: I DO NOT KNOW THE ANSWER. I have no idea what will get us out of this mess. But, with each argument I see, my thoughts are becoming clearer, and I'm hoping that some of you may help me to clarify that even more.
So here it is AN OPEN FORUM. No one is wrong, and nothing will be judged. I am going to share with you some of my thoughts and I welcome you to comment and share yours. The only way to reach a more comprehensive understanding of a problem, is through considering as many perspectives as possible, and recognizing the logic behind all of them.
First off, I know that the 18 school shootings estimate was way off base. It is my understanding that the actual number involving teachers and students this year is closer to 7 (found varying accounts from 6-8, taking the middle route). While this is less than 18, I think it is more than enough. To be honest, even 1 would be more than enough for me.
What I am witnessing is a nation that does not feel safe -- and this applies to both the victims and the perpetrators. When I acknowledge the feelings that could drive someone to commit such acts, I know they are human feelings. I know they are feelings of isolation and insecurity and hopelessness and frustration and anger without a constructive means of expression. This means that people having these feelings, don’t feel that anything they can do or say will get their feelings heard which leads to explosive acts. I get that. I’m pretty sure we’ve all felt that on some scale at some point in our lives. We may not have resorted to violence, and we may not think we ever would, but how about we all admit that it’s a human possibility? I don’t equate this to a “mental health” epidemic. I equate this to a people feeling stuck and without resources epidemic. This is something we as a society can take steps to change. This is something I as an individual can take steps to change. I am the support. I am the compassion. I will continue to be this in my day to day, and I will seek ways to provide it on a larger scale.
I am hearing all of this debate about laws and how they’ve worked in other countries from one side, and I am hearing all about how laws take away respect and integrity from the other side. Honestly, I can understand either perspective. Violence is happening! Of course we want to control that! Laws are restrictive! Of course, we want our freedom as well! And of course, we are afraid- we want to protect ourselves, no matter which route we believe is more effective! Either of these perspectives is valid and arguable. I mean, on the one hand, we can’t really control much of anything. People will do what they want to do and violence will be where it wants to be to some extent. However, I don’t think that means we shouldn’t assist one another in learning what works, or attempt to keep one another reasonably safe in the process. And yes, we should be able to exercise our free will; however, we must also recognize when that will is putting others and ourselves in danger. Yes, we should be able to protect ourselves. What is the way for us to do that that best serves the whole?
When I look at my family, we have our “laws”. I mean, there are boundaries that I set for my children while they are in the process of learning boundaries of their own. I don’t think I am disrespecting them by doing that. I think I am doing my best to keep them safe… which doesn’t always work… I can’t control everything, but I do my best to support them while they learn. My husband and I have unspoken “laws” as well (though I hate referring to them as that LOL), laws that are actually a sign of respect and understanding of one another’s needs. As a member of this family, I think abiding by our laws is a sign of respect and integrity, and listening when someone wants or needs to have a “law” adjusted, is also a sign of respect and integrity. Understanding and being willing to reconcile a broken law and the need it represents, is also a sign of respect and integrity. No, that is not the same as governing a country… but maybe it’s not as different as we think.
Just like the "broken law" in my family, violence is a symptom of a deeper issue, a deeper need in our society. What are those issues? Using the “mental health” reference, is further separating many individuals from recognizing that the situations leading to these violent outbreaks could happen to any of us and affect all of us. Despite what many believe, less that 5% of shootings are committed by people with diagnosable mental illness (Gun Violence and Mental Illness, by psychiatrists Liza Gold and Robert Simon, 2016). As uncomfortable as that is to accept, there is no evidence to support mental illness as a cause for increased violence. What does this mean? It suggests that perfectly healthy people are capable of resorting to violence and that all people could benefit from support that encourages other options. Part of what we need here, is the willingness to come together, accept one another, acknowledge the struggles that we all have, attempt to understand those deeper needs, and support one another in creating the change that will benefit the whole. The prevalence of anxiety and depression in our society today, is another symptom. It may be a symptom of elevated stress due to the broadening economic divide or racial or cultural divide or political divide or any of the other divides you want to throw in there that separate us. It is likely a symptom of a lack of perceived social support that may actually stem in part from our tendency to label and separate. I have not done extensive research into the perpetrators of any of the recent crimes, but I have studied Criminal Psychology and I can hazard to guess that these people thought they were doing something they needed to do to deal with some type of inner emotion or stress. There is a lot of stress in today's world! We all rationalize our actions and follow our inner logic, and unfortunately, it doesn't always make complete sense. Violence is an ineffective coping mechanism. How can we as a society create change around the feelings of hopelessness, anger, and isolation that are swirling around seemingly at large today? Our focus should be on social programs.
Strengthening the support that exists and making it more available to the disenfranchised and the struggling would be a start. According to NCBI, "Numerous studies indicate social support is essential for maintaining physical and psychological health." This support can come from within personal networks, but being as not all individuals have a supportive network or networks with the appropriate resources to support them, community programs and support are equally important to maintain the health of society at large. Creating an environment in which people actually have equal opportunity to succeed and feel less like the odds are stacked against them is far reaching but could also be tremendously helpful here. I do not have all of the answers as to how this support should be provided or maintained. I would like programs that teach adults and children to effectively process their emotions in a healthy way, making that stress more manageable. I am advocating for programs implemented in schools and community centers teaching people how to navigate their emotional experience, communicate their needs, and choose a constructive response. All of our children should have access to this type of education so that none of our children should have to feel driven to violence as a response. Yes, this would take a lot of people, a lot of paperwork, funding, and a lot of change to put in place. Some of these programs already exist through community nonprofits. I am currently exploring ways to be more active with some of these organizations. This is my most logical forward step.
I don't know how all of this will play out and I'm not in a position at this moment to create a "social program" of that scale. What I will do, is ASK for it and advocate for it. In the meantime, I will focus on how I can encourage these skills of emotional processing in my own children. I will also do what I can to assist any other child in whom I may encounter a need. I will also vow to encourage my children to stop the separation... to stand up and reach across that divide that leaves people feeling labeled and alone. I will encourage them to acknowledge the connection. I will BE the compassion. And I will encourage others to do the same. It may not be the fastest way to go about it, but I have to believe that by focusing my own steps, I can inspire more compassion, more understanding, more emotional intelligence, and more connection in the world.
How would any of this prevent what’s happening RIGHT NOW? It doesn’t. It is a long term change. This is why we need laws right now, to get us through that process. Social reform is needed on many levels. Laws buy us time to explore and create those changes. Just like the restrictions I use to keep my children safe while they are learning how to function in the world, gun policy may be something we need to put in place while we learn how to better our social environment and empower our citizens to deal with stress in a more effective way.
Let me know what you think about all this.... I'm listening.
Does that make sense? I’m interested in what you have to sa