Two public shooting incidents leave several people dead in Colorado this weekend right on the tail of eight people shot dead in a senseless massacre at an Omaha shopping mall. A twenty-year old male shooter is dead in Colorado. The nineteen-year-old gunman in Omaha shoots himself after the killing spree. What is at the root of these tragic events? Are they becoming more common? And if so, why?
A health and wellness author and speaker, I travel the country and meet thousands of people in public events every month and can say without hesitation: Americans feel increasingly stressed and helpless. Among the most common problem people give voice to in these events are feelings of overwhelming anxiety and depression. Young guys are particularly vulnerable when feelings of helplessness trigger hormonal spikes of testosterone and adrenaline at the same time. Our fight or flight instinct is notoriously irrational. Fearful, angry states of mind can seriously impede rational thought. The standard American diet emphasizes white flour and sugar over nutrient-dense fresh fruits and vegetables; this recipe all but guarantees unbalanced minds. When drugs, alcohol, nutritional deficiencies or sleep deprivation complicate the picture, bizarre anti-social behavior can and does occur.
We live in a world that is far from tranquil and our young are among those most affected and most vulnerable. As little as 25 years ago, American lifestyles were far less stressful and included regular opportunities to unplug and refresh that we have all but lost today. We could still take an hour and clear our heads by walking through a quiet area in nature. Today, our world has become overcrowded and we are rapidly running out of room to breathe. Studies with animals show that overcrowding leads to anti-social behavior. We have all but paved over the last remnants of nature. In some areas, to take a walk means exposing yourself to the risk of drive-by shootings, asphyxiation by toxic fumes, and deafening traffic noise. These conditions disallow the quieted state that lets us de-stress. The average American spends his or her free time these days on a commute where road-rage is common or in front of a computer screen; gone are the days of walking the dog or chatting across the fence with a neighbor. Family meals are a rarity rather than a regular interval where we can relax and connect. We're not only disconnected from family and friends, but also from nature. And many of us have also our spiritual mooring and are adrift.
Another major factor that is impossible to measure in post-911 America is the deeply shaken core belief and experience that life is inherently safe. We have an administration that plays to our fears by flashing the orange and red alert over and over, keeping people anxious and on edge. In addition to the inherent stress of modern life, many of our young have been exposed to a never-ending stream of violent input from television, movies and video games from a very young age. Violent acts witnessed over and over become a default program and profoundly affect our view of "what humans do" by normalizing the horrendous in pliable young minds.
What is the solution? What can one person do? In my work across the country, I assist individuals to re-instill tranquility in everyday life. We can learn to unplug from the rat race and re-connect with our humanity by weaving a strand of peace into our day-to-day lives. Quiet the mind for just five or ten minutes a day. Take whatever measures are needed to get in touch with the still small voice that is always there to calm you. Put a part of your mind on assignment to drop anchor into that place of peace so you can return to it at any time. The ripple out effect of meditative practices has been shown to reduce violence in scientific studies. It's a small step, but one we all can take.
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