Never Again

You’d pretty much have to be living under a rock to not have heard the two words in the title of my blog this week.  It’s been a week that has shown us turmoil, love, hate, fear, pain, strength, idiocy, intelligence, . . . in other words, our humanness has been showing.

Last week, once again the bandaid has been ripped off a gaping wound in our country. This is such a delicate, divisive and hurtful issue for all of us. 17 teenagers and teachers were killed in another mass shooting. My question is – why does it have to be so divisive?

We’re all affected by this from every inch of the emotional scale, and we each have ideas about why such things occur – and maybe even about what should be done about them. As we mature emotionally and socially, it becomes a tendency for us to begin to put things, experiences and people into categories to make sense of them. As babies and young children, we don’t see differences; but as we are socialized, they become a part of how we experience life. My point is that it can be helpful to put things into categories because it really can aid us in understanding and approaching issues better. It gives us a sense of security and life feels so much better organized when we can put things, thoughts and people into these boxes of “right” & “wrong” or “good” & “bad.” My wish is that we could see this event and constant argument not as something that represents who we are as a people, not a political war, but allow it to bring out our strengths. But since we can’t seem to do that, the teenagers who survived this traumatic event are leading the way.

In my line of work, the purpose of diagnosing is to give us a structure from which to work to help someone. But while it can be helpful to have that overall structure to guide us, there is also the risk of misdiagnosing someone, as many symptoms of one disorder are the same as in others. While I don’t like to diagnose in most cases because I think it often blinds us to other aspects of the whole person; I do believe in working to change underlying core beliefs, rather than putting bandages on surface behaviors. I believe all behavior is purposeful – based on the core belief we’ve developed from similar situations. That doesn’t mean we’re always conscious of what that purpose is, but we do what we do because it has usually accomplished the result we want.

Mass shootings don’t happen nearly as often in most other democratic countries as they do in the US. There are a lot of reasons this is the case, but this isn’t the point of my blog. As I said before, there are lots of ideas why we have so many, but I’m going to throw mine out there for you to chew on. I’m not asking you to agree with me, but I do hope you’ll at least hear me out. In order to openly discuss a topic, we need to each know what our intention for the conversation is.  If it’s to prove who’s right and who’s wrong, we’ll get nowhere, which is clear, given the lack of progress on this issue over the years. But if we really want to change something and get past repeating the same script over and over; we have to focus not on what was done by whom in the past, but on where we are now and LISTEN with the aim of understanding more about the other side’s perspective; rather than just coming up with our own defense in our heads while that person is talking.  Most of us know this process as conflict resolution. Michelle Buck calls it “conflict transformation.” I love that phrase because when it works, it really can transform us from individuals on one side or the other – to all being together in the solution.

The Second Amendment is undeniably a right spelled out in the Constitution. But it’s no more important than any other right we have in this democracy. The topic of mass shootings can be emotional, infuriating and scary, but it’s more than just a difference of opinion. In the midst of the arguments, it gets misdiagnosed. Gun control, mental illness, and gun violence are all really just symptoms of the real disease. (I want to make something clear here.  MOST mentally ill people are not dangerous! While I agree some people should NOT have access to fire arms or possibly any other tool of violence; lumping mental illness in with other symptoms can be risky because there is already such a stigma, based on the misunderstanding of what constitutes mental illness and seeking help for it. Also all the talk recently of “doing something about mental illness” is double talk because those using these words are mostly the same people who voted to diminish our healthcare and are not willing to provide access to mental health services for those who can’t afford it).

But back to the disease: I believe it’s a culture that loves power over everything else – which leads to violence, greed, racism, sexism. . .  just about any “ism” you can name. Underlying all of this is fear. Extreme behaviors don’t become so extreme unless there’s fear. (Have you ever known a control freak? Why do you think they’re so controlling? It’s not because they are really chill and feel safe. It’s because deep down, they fear something and they attempt to control everything and everyone around them so they’ll feel more secure).

So the core belief is “I am powerless” which is an underlying fear, and the resulting external behaviors are the violent acts and putting all others down through racism, sexual harassment or assault, etc because they help the person feel more powerful.

NRA pays exorbitant amounts to lawmakers to push/block laws that benefit the gun manufacturers they represent because they fear losing sales if common sense laws were passed and enforced (power and greed). Those who are saying the high school survivors of the Parkland shooting who are speaking out are  “crisis actors” are saying that because they feel threatened by some very smart, articulate young people (power and lack of relevance/security). They’re afraid those kids might actually be smarter than they are, and might be the beginning of a change that will take away the security of an environment with which they’ve become familiar. (As humans, we love familiar – even if it’s more uncomfortable than change might be).

So what is the answer? I obviously don’t know any more than anyone else. I have several ideas, but this is a blog about finding peace within the storm, not a political paper. There’s no one thing that will fix this.

As I mentioned in my blog last week, more than anything, this is a cultural issue. While I understand we’re not going to eradicate all violence, science has proven over and over that prevention is much less expensive (financially and emotionally), than fixing a problem after it’s happened.  We need to start with young kids with a paradigm shift on how we see ourselves as Americans. For so many (especially young males) in our country, strength is seen as being able to hold power over someone else – with violence and aggressiveness. In reality, violence is nothing more than a crutch for an emotionally immature person. The rational part of a teen’s brain isn’t fully developed and won’t be until age 25 for males and 21 for females. In fact, recent research has found that adult and teen brains work differently. Most adults think with the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s rational part. This is the part of the brain that responds to situations with good judgment and an awareness of long-term consequences. (I say “most” adults, because those who have been traumatized in some way, or have become addicted, have stunted emotional maturity until they work through the addiction or trauma – when they can begin to make up that gap, but it takes time). On the other hand, however, teenagers process information with the amygdala. This is the emotional part of the brain.

But regardless of age (obviously not all shootings are carried out by young men), I’d love to see our education system integrate mindfulness, empathy and an understanding that becoming aware of our vulnerabilities and how to manage them is where our strengths actually lie. (This wouldn’t take a lot of time or training for teachers and the outcome would be so worth it for all of us. A few schools in our country do it already, just not enough of them).

Finally, and I mentioned this last week as well, as adults, we need to be watchful of those who might be isolating too much. We all feel alone at times.  But some feel it most of the time, and often have not been shown the skills to reach out. I believe it’s the responsibility of each of us to be there for them. A sense of social connection is the platform for the individual Self. A hole in the platform makes the Self begin to crumble.