Recently, when I saw “To Sir with Love” in the cable guide, I turned it on, thinking I’d seen it years ago. I quickly realized I had not, and then… Sir (Sidney Poitier) tells his student, “Are you going to use a weapon every time someone angers you? You’re supposed to be learning self-discipline.” I thought, “Well, I don’t believe in coincidence, and that’s a perfect segue into Part II of my series.
In searching for answers on the true causes of gun violence as opposed to the symptoms, my first thought is that the social fabric in our country, the core morality on which our civilization is founded, is coming apart at the seams. Society overall has become ever more fractious. It seems everywhere we turn, the example is to battle one’s way through every disagreement. Rare is the example of civilized conflict resolution, compromise or shared responsibility. The response to dissatisfaction is increasingly deadly, be it in the form of mass shootings or domestic violence.
A good place to begin looking for causes (and thereby solutions) is to reflect on what is happening in society that seems to encourage uncivilized and disconnected behavior in general.
- Combativeness in society as a whole, with an “anything goes” mentality – From the halls of Congress to the average Facebook page, vitriol and vulgarity, name-calling and negativity, spews forth. Could these not be the seeds of violence? It’s as if going on a rampage, be it verbal or physically violent, is becoming the “new normal,” an accepted way of dealing with disagreement. I shudder at the very thought.
- War – An entire generation has spent all of their formative years in an environment where “being at war” is a “normal state of affairs.”
- No sense of responsibility for self – From the playground to the corporate boardroom, there seems to be little interest in taking responsibility for one’s own actions, behaviors, or the related outcomes. Someone or something else is always to blame, so there is no reason to waste time on introspection. In our modern coddling society, many seem to have missed out on the lessons of cause and effect and therefore find themselves free to act with little consideration of the consequences. This, unfortunately, can lead one to believe that eliminating the person blamed will eliminate the problem; but, when the problem is actually within, it cannot be resolved by trigger fingers pointed at others (which may be why so many turn it at the true source as their final act).
- Technology – Technology has changed social interaction in many ways. Today, people spend so much time online they don’t learn or practice the socialization and conflict resolution skills that came almost naturally in previous times.
- Lack of conflict resolution skills –Gone are the days where a group of neighborhood kids played together and had to learn how to resolve issues in order to keep the game or other event going. Online, the options for avoidance and the vast number of other available players mean you can just take your game elsewhere. There is no means or clear reason to learn how to negotiate, compromise, or resolve conflict in a positive way.
- Lack of social skills and empathy – In the “good ol’ days” not so long ago, it was often hard, for example, to break up with someone or end a friendship because you had to see the reaction, how THE OTHER felt, and had to deal with his or her questions. It wasn’t a decision made lightly. Today, it is far too easy for people to isolate themselves from the feelings of others and in dealing with their own. Something as intimate as a break-up is now so impersonal, done by text or Facebook, you can just “shut down” via technology. There is no reason or opportunity to see or feel the hurt of another, no chance to discuss or understand – and the silence breeds hurt and confusion that festers until the “victim” believes the only way s/he can feel better is to be rid of the source. And in this depersonalized world, that too often means eliminating the source instead of moving on and growing up.
And in that sense, revenge, recognition or both become a unified focus for action, much the same as a jihadist’s ’cause’. In fact, the perpetrators of the Newtown, Aurora, Tucson and myriad other shootings are terrorists, every bit as much as Timothy McVeigh or the 9/11 hijackers. In all cases, the goal was to kill a high number of innocents to serve some cause or deliver some message – a message that, no matter how much insight we have, will likely never make sense to the rest of us as justification for taking lives.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. The one course of action promoted by the Obama administration that holds some promise for a solution is to research the causes of gun violence, although I believe an organization outside the government’s reach (unlike the CDC) might be more credible to the majority. In either case, however, this sort of research needs to be far-reaching, looking at more than the roles of gun laws, violent entertainment and even mental health. Unless it looks much more deeply and thoroughly at the underlying causes and potential proactive remedies, any results will be perceived as simply designed to reinforce proposed legislation, especially now when there seems to be a conspiracy theory for every occasion.
So where to begin? Perhaps these questions can help guide the way:
- How do we ensure individuals develop a strong sense of responsibility to themselves and to others?
- How do we resolve the fractious nature of society?
- How do we celebrate and encourage inclusion, the value of differences (they make the world work!), compassion, empathy, peaceful conflict resolution and minimize bullying?
- How do we ensure people have productive ways for conveying their messages and clear channels they trust to address their needs and help right perceived wrongs?
This type of research might just show the violence can only be alleviated by engendering a greater sense of humanity from an early age and reinforcing it with positive examples. Perhaps with a little compassion, well-developed interpersonal skills, and an ingrained sense of self-responsibility, societal ills would begin to mend.