Loved the film, but this here isn't a movie. The characters are not foreign terrorists we can track down and eliminate. This crisis defies simplistic analyses. We have met the enemy and he is indeed us. Month by month, year by year, we have become a culture of violence. "How can such a things happen," we are asking about the Newtown tragedy. "Why?" It breaks our hearts. Yet looking more deeply, we are all participants in a culture of violence with its accompanying apathy, forgetfulness, willful ignorance, denial, spineless narrow self-interest, hypocrisy, and ideological intransigence.
Humans and all beings are intimately connected. You don't have to be a Buddhist monk who sees into our essential interbeing or a quantum physicist exploring the relation of space, time and matter to remember the old saying that "the hip bone's connected to the thigh bone, the thigh bones connected to the ___ bone," and so on. What happens here directly impacts what happens there, and visa versa. The whole is reflected in the part, and the part presents the whole. Even if we can't see it or don't grasp the mechanism. That's the way the world and its living systems work.
This morning on Meet The Press a panel composed of Dianne Feinstein, Bill Bennett, David Brooks, Randi Weingarten, Tom Ridge, Michael Eric Dyson discussed the heart-breaking violence in Newtown, CT. Tom Ridge, former Governor of Pennsylvania and Secretary of Homeland Security who has studied the Virginia Tech shootings brought a refreshingly integrative perspective, calling not only for gun regulation, which Senator Feinstein will be proposing, but for a broader conversation and action. "No child is born violent" he said, and wondered aloud about the experiences and pressures that contributed to children to become the killers at Columbine, Aurora, and Sandy Hook. "We know there are mental health problems. But we've got to peel away the different layers." He felt that an assault weapons ban is important, but added "there's still so much more that needs to be done. Mental health is a component of it." Not finished, Ridge continued, "We haven't even started talking about the corrosive influence of a violent-oriented world -- TV, video games, shoot to kill video games. When you're in the military you learn that your target may shoot back, but you get in this digital world, this fantasy world, that I think -- you take a look at the folks ... at Columbine, Aurora, etcetera, suddenly it's -- it's a different personality type."
"Policy change, yes, of course. Mental health, yes of course. But what about the culture that contributes to children's upbringing?" Ridge asks. New York Times journalist David Brooks, responded that this had already been studied and very few of the killers had contact with violent video games. He didn't think it was a sociological problem but rather a psychological problem.
David Brooks, wake up! Our psychological make-up is formed in and by a culture and in turn creates that culture. Psychology and sociology are names given to different courses at college. You separate the two at your and our collective peril. Your compartmentalized thinking, of which you are surely unaware, is emblematic of a fragmented mindset that plagues us more than we see.
Back to the "hip bone's connected" home spun wisdom that we forget all too easily. I have worked as a psychologist-psychoanalyst for nearly 40 years, with children, families, and adults, and with trauma, particularly war trauma. The VA and DoD are just now beginning to dig themselves out of silo-based thinking and service models, with their over-emphasis on "evidence-based" models of therapy.
Are stigma and access to mental health services a problem? Of course. Does the government have a prime role in regulating the access to weapons and protecting its people? Of course. But our culture, in which the draw of violence is turbo-charged, glamorized and commercialized, clearly plays a pivotal role in the psychological problems of an alarmingly growing number of young men who commit wanton murder. Random violence becomes routine -- dulling if not numbing and eroding our most human sensibilities.
We are helpless, we want it fixed, and become prone, even Brooks, to either-or thinking. But there is no silver bullet. Silver bullet, compartmentalized thinking is the problem. Cumulative trauma compromises the capacity for making connections, for holistic reflection. At it's extreme, the other becomes "not me," so I can eliminate him or her with impunity, Intellectually, it's like bubble living: psychology here, culture there, economics somewhere else. Climate? Fuhgetaboutit. We must grasp our fundamental interconnectedness, and with it the intimate and often unseen interplay of psychological and cultural forces and social and political action. I'm not saying we shouldn't regulate guns, reduce stigma associated with emotional problems, improve access to quality integrative care, or protect ourselves from harm.
I am saying: Let's use our grief and pain as a wake-up call. As we gather around this new yet increasingly familiar tragedy, as we process what's happened, as we comfort one another and try to heal, let us light a fire under our collective butts, and dare to face and keep in view the fact that we and our lives, personal and collective, are more connected than we ever imagined, in ways we never envisioned. We are our brothers keepers. We are our sisters' keepers. We are all in this together. Let's plan and act accordingly.
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