School Shooting: A Cultural Shift is Needed – Update
By Jim Cathcart
We all mourn the horrible losses in the Florida school shooting while we scream with rage at the monster who did the shooting. We all want a solution and people are ranting about each of their preferred solutions. Many are demanding the elimination of all guns. Others are asserting that we must increase mental health reporting, and some are recommending the equivalent of spying on and reporting our neighbors. According to the recent reports this was not a failure caused by lack of gun laws but rather a failure by the law enforcement community there. They got the warnings but didn’t respond effectively.
This is reported to be the 18th school shooting in the USA during the first 46 days of 2018. What?!!! That is beyond outrageous! There’s a much larger problem here and it’s not just a “gun problem”. Clearly this isn’t simply a crime problem, a gun problem or even a mental health problem. It is a symptom of a deeper need, a “disturbance in the Force.” Something about our society and the way we live in this world has changed in the past few decades. We did not have these frequent atrocities in earlier generations. They happened but rarely.
Even though guns have been readily available to millions of Americans since the founding of our country there have not been many tragic atrocities like the recent ones. So this is not a symptom of a gun problem. It is a societal or cultural one. In other words, it is symptomatic of the changes in our society over the last generation or two. More laws or more police wouldn’t have affected the Florida shooting. The police were there, but ineffective. The shooter got past laws that should have prevented him from owning guns, but the laws weren’t being enforced. Many cries for help or red flags went completely unheeded. Our system needs to enforce existing laws and see that official’s duties are fulfilled as intended. And yes, more needs to be done.
One contributor to this is our universal access to media. What happens here is known everywhere within the hour. That’s not just true of the USA, it applies to Paris, China and Indonesia as well. Our world is hyper-connected, and ideas spread fast, including the worst ideas. Sick people everywhere see examples in the news and movies, and they learn new perverted ways to harm others. Lonely, desperate souls who are hurting often mimic the atrocities they’ve seen on TV.
Politicians and social activists pick up the rant and shout assertions that we need more control of people, fewer freedoms, and laws, laws, laws, many more laws to stop the insanity and violence. It’s hard to resist their appeal. We all feel the outrage. We’re angry, afraid and eager to do something, anything, to just make it better. The problem is that we are often willing to do substantial, irreversible things, even things we know won’t work, just in an effort to make some symbolic gesture of outrage and defiance. At times like this, we are vulnerable to making very bad decisions.
Public opinion seems to have hardened around the easy targets: guns, the NRA, politicians who uphold the 2nd Amendment, and conservatives in general. The students have spoken out eloquently and powerfully. Specifically Emma Gonzales. Some have been outrageously disrespectful to the President and to Senators, and they’ve been allowed to do so because of the heartbreak of what they went through at the school. That’s understandable but still not appropriate behavior. We can sympathize with and understand a person’s pain but there are points where they are being too mean-spirited and disrespectful. We should not be condoning gross profanity, blatant disrespect, and misbehavior and then justifying our acceptance of it by calling it sympathy. Hear them, yes, understand their rage and pain, of course, and take appropriate action, for sure.
What is ironic is that these easy targets, these one-dimensional solutions aren’t solutions at all. They are symbolic gestures. If you really want to stop gun violence then eliminate gangs and the reasons kids have for joining them. (The vast majority of gun crimes are committed by gang members.) Address mental health issues. Assure that reporting is heard and acted upon and that the police enforce the existing laws. There are plenty of good laws in place, new ones aren’t needed in most instances. Require that the media tells us the truth instead of demonizing the latest popular target e.g. the NRA or President Trump. But the media is bombarding us with the superficial images of what is most sensational and limited or even erroneous information to the exclusion of stimulating true discussion that might lead to real results.
This is no time for symbolic gestures. Calling for new laws isn’t the solution. There are already sufficient laws in place but they weren’t enforced. It is time for substantial, thoughtful and careful action. We need a course change. It’s not a time to follow one individual or to seek one universal solution. Many are touting the wisdom of the students and saying that we need to follow them. I say, Hear them, yes. Follow them, no. Students do not have wisdom, they have intellect and passion. Wisdom is only gained through experience, reflection, knowledge, exploration, experimentation and proven results. We definitely need to listen to the students though and to each other.
None of us is as wise as all of us.
Without funding a whole new agency, expanding police control, or waiting for Congress to act, let’s get together and talk. We have plenty of people, agencies, offices, and tools in place already. Let’s use them more wisely.
Today let’s launch a nationwide effort to stimulate local discussions among all categories of citizens. Not rage-filled rallies, angry marches, or crying in public (we’ve done that); now let’s have Dialogue, Discussion. Rational Thinking shared by Thoughtful Concerned People. There are plenty of meeting spaces we can use and nobody needs to be “in charge” of this effort. So, let’s send out a wide appeal through all our media to local groups to organize for discussion. Not rants or political discussions, not “community organizing” but just communication. We all need solutions and among ourselves we can find them.
Every faction needs to be heard. Civic clubs, city councils, churches, social clubs, neighborhoods, home owners, students, faculty, law enforcement, business people, government employees, sports groups…all have a voice and a stake in the outcome. Let’s listen and collaborate. Create online forums, add this to your podcasts, stand up and share your thoughts. But…
Please don’t waste this opportunity by just turning it into a venting or raging rant. Scream your head off before the discussion while you’re alone or with close friends, or on your Social Media pages; but then calm down and enter into the discussion with a cooperative heart.
Then let’s gather all these ideas into a collective database or small group of websites through which the world can discover ways to make ourselves better.
There will always be sick, sad, mean and angry people among us. They will always be able to find or create a weapon: a truck, a pressure cooker, a virus, a club or a gun. No amount of “weapon control” can truly keep us safe. Instead, we need a culture-changing solution. One that leads to more two parent families, more commitment to becoming good people, more compassion for the needy among us, more aspiration to living a meaningful life, more sense of civic responsibility and more personal desire to make the world a better place. We are smart enough to change the world. We’ve proven that in the past. Now let’s do it again.
Jim Cathcart, CSP, CPAE is a behavioral scientist and professional speaker from Thousand Oaks, California.