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How to Combat a Culture of Violence -- and Maybe Save Lives

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As everyone has, I have struggled to find some appropriate words, a meaningful response, to the Sandy Hook tragedy. I stayed silent, however, because I felt that I had little to add to the millions of sentiments posted already.

Then the NRA held their news conference.

It was almost the Theater of the Absurd (More guns are better! Blame the media and video games!), complete with Code Pink protestors to liven things up. But it revealed with full force the stunning amoral rhetoric in its pernicious and vacuous smarminess.

It was followed by the tragedy in Webster, N.Y., where the same kind of assault weapon was in the hands of another killer to devastating effect.

Okay, I said to myself, that does it! I may have little to say, and people may not care about my small contribution, but silence is complicity.

But what should I say? What, as Saybrook's leader, could I add to the discourse that would serve the purpose of rebuking NRA madness and at the same time adding something to the mix?

To my rescue came the Saybrook faculty. The remainder of this post is a statement by the Social Transformation faculty prepared last week. To my mind, while it doesn't say it all, it says a lot. And I am proud to be the president of an institution that produces clarity and sharp analysis in chaotic moments like this.

Please read it as you begin your new year, and join me in trying to do better as a culture and a species in 2013!

Social Transformation Faculty of Saybrook University Statement in Response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School Tragedy

The Social Transformation Faculty of Saybrook University wishes to speak out about the gun violence that has reemerged in the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, which, like all people of conscience, we mourn deeply.

Our hearts go out to the victims. After much deliberation, we feel the best way to honor them is by working to address the root causes of a culture of gun violence that contributed to their needless deaths.

Unfortunately, shootings have increased year after year in the U.S., leaving far too many people dead, injured, or maimed for life. Scholars in our faculty and graduate student community -- particularly students in our certificate program in Peace and Conflict Resolution -- have studied this issue, including attention to causes, prevention and support to traumatized victims of all ages. Recognizing the complexity of the issue, we offer the following call to action:

  • We support legislation to ban assault weapons and the high-capacity ammunition that increases their destructiveness in mass shootings, require background checks, and licensure and training requirements for all gun owners.
  • Our mental health system and our schools need the resources to reach out to families and communities to help individuals whose level of personal alienation and despair may urge them to act out with destructive consequences for themselves and others. Saybrook faculty members have promoted nonviolence in educational, correctional, and other settings. Most recently, Theopia Jackson has been invited to write a position paper for the Oakland Children's Hospital helping families talk about and cope with violence for young children.
  • We ask for a reexamination of a culture that excuses, condones, trivializes, and promotes violence. No single aspect of this culture of violence can be clearly linked to a particular homicide or mass homicide. Yet the problem is rampant. Our culture makes too much use of violent video games, violent movies, and violent TV. Selective reporting of crimes makes some people more frightened of particular racial groups. We too readily accept metaphors of war to describe contests and conflicts of all types, falsely associate manhood with violence, and glorify winning as the undoing of an enemy, rather than an opportunity for life-saving reconciliation.
  • We support the development of a culture of transformative personal, organizational, and social change that fosters and celebrates the highest human qualities and practices, including empathy, altruism, peaceful conflict resolution, and restorative justice.

Our American society is the world's leading developer, seller, defender, and promoter of lethal weapons, from handguns to Reaper drones to nuclear bombs. We recruit large numbers of young people, desperate for work and for meaning, to serve the country in wars that are not necessary. We bring the survivors home, many of them traumatized, disabled, facing high rates of homelessness and joblessness, and prone to violence toward themselves and others. We continue outdated traditions, in which national security is assumed to mean identifying, targeting, and eliminating enemies, rather than our capacity to live in harmony with all people as part of our human family.

Such social injustices result in psychological stress for caregivers and children nationwide. Saybrook faculty would like to share a set of resources from the Academy on Violence and Abuse that help parents and caregivers speak about these issues with children. If there is significant concern as to how you, or your children, are coping with this most recent national trauma, as well as the many day-to-day occurrences of violence that are less publicized, we encourage you to seek out local mental health providers, spiritual leaders, and/or other caregivers. We don't need to face these issues alone.

Finally, one of the best ways people recover from threats and traumas is to take constructive action. Everyone in America can help themselves, each other, and our nation by joining local or national campaigns to begin the work of healing from our culture of violence. Seriously restricting weapon availability, early identification of, and outreach to, troubled individuals, and an end to a culture of violence are in keeping with Saybrook's mission of inspiring "transformational change in individuals, organizations, and communities, toward a just, humane, and sustainable world." We urge American citizens and leaders in all sectors of society to take concrete steps toward creating a true culture of peace.

Mark Schulman, PhD, currently serves as president of Saybrook University, a premier graduate institution for humanistic studies in psychology, mind-body medicine, organizational systems, leadership, and human science. He is the former president of Goddard College (Vermont), and president and professor of humanities at Antioch University Southern California, Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. He has published extensively on progressive and emancipatory education, distance learning, technology and culture.