6 Ways to Replace Violence With a Culture of Caring
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The Newtown tragedy compels Americans to consider the ways that both our society and our attitudes contribute to creating a more violent society. Much has been written about gun control, but we also need a focus on the widespread attitudes and beliefs that contribute to violence and how we can identify and change them. Here are six ideas.
1. Beware of Media Traumatization
After I heard the news about the Newtown school tragedy, I decided to avoid the news media's inevitable, obsessive, insight-void replays of footage. Neuropsychological science has discovered that either seeing, or imagining actions directly impacts our neurology. Repetitive viewings of violent occurrences can install trauma triggers, even inducing nightmares and flashbacks typical of post-traumatic stress. While it’s important to follow trustworthy news sources to serve as a well-informed citizen, repeated viewings of violent scenes without any clear purpose engraves terror into the neurology of the populace. There’s a difference between getting the information you need and getting traumatized.
2. Steer Clear of All-Knowing Cops and Detectives
Changing channels to get to a viewing of Les Miserables, I heard a snippet of commentary in which a local police officer promised, "Don't worry we'll find out why this happened."
To which my response was: "Really? How? The shooter is dead."
Commercial television—both news and entertainment -- depicts criminal procedural methods as the universal panacea. The programming of crime dramas encourages the belief that finding the criminal, reaching for guns, and confining folks to lockups are the solutions to a culture of violence. Although crime dramas love to portray detectives as a fantasy blend of enforcers and trustworthy confessors for those driven to acts of violence, it's not a cop's job to heal a broken heart or a broken life. But that is precisely where healing is needed if violence is to be avoided.
Dusting for fingerprints can never account for the pile of pain and lack of caring that drive people into the stew of trauma, numbness and hurt that prompt recurring incidents like Newtown. Neither can the erosion of a society's ethical fiber and caring be arrested by a pair of handcuffs.
Law invites the populace to heave a sigh of relief when the designated bad apple is indicted (literally or figuratively). But when lawmakers and regulators lack the moral courage to contain powerful lobbies that create mass damage, we shouldn’t be tempted to affix a label to one person. Instead when each of us notices and checks the belief that designating a villain makes us safe, we begin to seek out and address systemic contributors.
3. Don’t Apply Psychological Stigmata
In order to assuage the sorrow, dread, terror, and outrage evoked by this tragic incident, people rush to assign a "reason why," hoping that laying on a psychological or medical diagnosis or designating someone as "just evil" will protect oneself, or help make sense of an act that transgresses the boundaries of what we wish to believe about ourselves and our society.
But all too often, the band-aid diagnosis displaces true understanding. One available label is that one who performs a heinous act must be "mentally ill." Someone asked me, "Well, if he wasn't mentally ill what would you call it?"
"One among the many, many people who are hurting or angry or traumatized, who could get his hands on a gun," I responded.
Counselor and mental health professional Fred Erwin writes, "Spent the day with mentally ill folks whose lives, already hard, will be made harder by the association of this recent shooting with an autistic man, who killed because he was angry and could not control his emotional life, not because he had autism."