Gun Violence and the Solution That’s Right Under Our Noses

Last month, President Donald Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos hosted a roundtable discussion where they invited victims of school shootings to the White House to discuss their experiences and ideas for solutions. Regardless of your position on the president and Mrs. DeVos, this was a welcomed development in the debate over gun violence. Instead of debating, arguing, and the typical candor between politicians, real people came together to share solution ideas for a problem that has divided us for years. Not one to watch the news (or what I call “the noise” because I’m just so damn clever), I was transfixed. In a culture where we’re focused on who’s right vs. who’s wrong rather than “How can we come together to create a solution?” for once those in attendance had a common goal: create a culture of safety. Not five minutes after the meeting ended, came the hot takes from pundits and social media accounts focused again on who was right and who was wrong, why the president is an asshat, and his meeting notes, including a reminder to “hear” those voicing their concerns. We were right back to focusing on problems instead of creating solutions. In all this noise, we missed out on the solution to the problem that was offered during the meeting that doesn’t just take care of the symptoms like mental health reform, banning certain guns, or arming teachers: a cultural shift focused on how we see one another.
During this meeting, one person really stood out to me: Darrel Scott, father of Rachel Scott, who was killed in the 4/20/97 shooting at Columbine High School. This was the school shooting that brought the topic of gun violence into the national spotlight almost 21 years ago, and still, few solutions have been reached. In fact, mass shootings have only intensified, because in these twenty-plus years, Columbine has dropped out of the top 10 list for deadliest shootings (um… yay?). It’s time for new ideas, because the ideas we’ve been working with for over two decades are clearly not doing the trick. What Scott said struck a chord with me since I study and share how to create positive workplace cultures for a living. Scott has a brief opportunity to get to the core of, not only the issue of gun violence, but the issues of violence in general and the underlying lack of happiness plaguing the country. Scott isn’t just talking about it a solution, he’s actively doing something to fix the deeply rooted cause of violent behavior: a lack of human connection.
Since his daughter lost her life, Scott has founded Rachel’s Challenge,* a nonprofit on a mission to create a positive climate focused on making schools safer, more connected places where bullying and violence are replaced with kindness and respect. According to Scott, the program has touched 28 million students since its founding in 1998, has prevented 7 school shootings, prevents an average of 150 suicides a year, and has seen improvements in the schools with whom they have partnered. According to the website, this includes gains in community engagement, faculty/student relationships, leadership potential, and school climate, as well as reductions in bullying, alcohol, tobacco, and drug use. While debates rage on over whether to arm teachers, ban automatic weapons, or apply stricter background checks when purchasing a firearm, Scott, a private citizen just like me and you, free from the entanglements of bureaucracy and politics, is, putting it bluntly, getting shit done.
Scott’s solution: “We must create a culture of connectedness. We must create a culture in which our classmates become our friends.” He goes on to explain how he has seen students connect with one another and makes a fascinating point: “Every single one of these school shootings have been from young men who are disconnected.”**
In his book, Flourish: positive psychologist Martin Seligman lists positive relationships as one of the five elements of human well-being.***

“Selfish-gene theory argues that the individual is the sole unit of natural selection. Evidence shows that the group is a primary unit of natural selection.”

Sure, I have read books in the field of positive psychology that re-affirm this, but it’s through my research in other fields like leadership, history, and, yes, even improvisation that have led me to go as far as to say that a lack of human connectedness is the causation of aggression, violence, and discrimination.
From Simon Sinek in his book Leaders Eat Last:

“When we cooperate or look out for others, serotonin and oxytocin reward us with the feelings of security, fulfillment, belonging, trust, and camaraderie.”

Humans are wired to get along, but we’re conditioned to covet personal gain, which goes against this biology, and costs us opportunities to make connections, become happier, and grow exponentially. In his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, historian Yuval Noah Harrari wrote:

“Evolution favors those capable of forming strong social ties. In addition, since humans are born underdeveloped, they can be educated and socialized far greater than any other animals.”

To solve the problem of gun violence, we must create a culture focused on humans connecting with one another in order to make each other better and to make the world a better place, which is what Darrel Scott and his wife are doing with Rachel’s Challenge. I believe that the long-term solution is an overhaul of the education system where the goal is for students to learn to connect with one another and work together, rather than work separately for individual accomplishment. Until then, each of us can play a small role on creating a culture of connectedness in our own lives and circles. Though each of us as individuals has a small voice, we have an opportunity to come together and connect as a cacophony of voices on a quest to create safety, happiness, and love. It is in the pursuit of creating something we all believe in that can connect us, rather than arguing over who is right or who is wrong, which denies us the chance to create connection.
Darrel Scott is just one voice who has brought together a chorus of many voices to make a difference and bring us closer to a more human culture:
“The focus must not be just on unity or diversity, because if you focus too much on diversity, you create division. If you focus too much on unity, you’ll create compromise. But if you focus on relatedness and how you can relate with one another, then you can celebrate the diversity and you can see the unity take place. The focus really needs to be on how we can connect. That’s something our organizations have learned: how to connect students with each other, with themselves, with their teachers, and with their parents.”

Imagine the freedom of walking the streets without the fear of violence – with a feeling of confidence that every person you pass has your best interests at heart. We have the choice to focus on how this isn’t possible, which is what has been happening, or we can shift our focus onto how we can come together and create this culture. One thing you can do today is not to debate, but to listen to the ideas of others and remember that no matter who we are, we all want to feel safe and loved. How can you help make this happen and connect with others today?

“The most important decision we make is whether we believe in a friendly or hostile universe.” – Albert Einstein
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands, but in looking with new eyes.” – Marcel Proust
*Darrel Scott speaks at about 33:50 in this video:
https://www.denverpost.com/2018/02/21/darrell-scott-columbine-shooting-donald-trump/
** Learn more about Rachel’s Challenge and how a culture of connectedness is helping students all over the country build relationships with classmates, parents, teachers, and themselves.
***The other four are positive emotion, engagement, meaning, and accomplishment.

Education: How to Make the World a Better Place

Want to make the world a better place than when you found it? Make the people around you better than they were when you found them.

We can spend years discussing the merits of gun laws, higher taxes for certain people, lower taxes for certain people, term limits, universal healthcare, equality, everyone gets a million dollars, etc. Actually, we have spent years discussing and debating these things, and the world is improving, but I’d like to take a moment to bring a new idea to the table so it can improve even more: education.

This isn’t exactly a new idea – we’ve known the education system has needed help for awhile, we just keep putting it on the back burner so we can argue about what someone shared in an email. As the world changes and continues to get faster and faster, we have a need to become people who can live and thrive in a fast-paced, ever-changing world. Meanwhile, our education system is stuck debating whether it’s okay to say a three-letter g-word in classrooms, and its ultimate end product is employees who adhere to this antiquated system.

This has nothing to do with building better schools, free college, or school choice.

This is about making our kids better people than we were. Because they have to make the world better than it was when they got here, they can’t do it with the same ideas we had. We have a responsibility to teach people how to make our ideas better, how to make other people better, and as a result, how to make our world better. Can we say with honesty that our curriculum inspires this attitude? How we contribute to the world hinges on what we learn as children and, now that we’re adults, how we teach our children. How are we teaching our children to treat others? To treat themselves? Is it making the world a better place?

What if you had learned in preschool that other people are different than you, and that these differences are what bring us together? Conflict originates from the belief that it is our differences that separate us when, in fact, they are what make us better. As kids, we didn’t understand why other people had their own motives and were never taught how. To learn how to navigate this world, we absorbed the beliefs of our parents, friends, and teachers, but we never learn how to improve upon them.

What if this class existed? Something called, I don’t know, “World Betterment 101” (I’m open to new names) where kids learn to:

  • accept and appreciate the points of view and beliefs of others
  • work together as a team to complete projects (sharing and being open to ideas, communicating through listening, and supporting one another)
  • use their strengths to better their weaknesses
  • understand the importance of failure, rejection, and mistakes and how to use them as opportunities to grow
  • focus on the gratitude for what they have and for what they have the potential to create
  • forgive
  • treat, not only others, but their surroundings and possessions as if we are them
  • have faith in possibilities, even when solutions seem impossible
  • get excited to expand your mind to new ideas

Learning the alphabet, colors, numbers, and shapes may be kind of a big deal, but learning to work together and make the world better is even more important. Think about how different your life would be if you had this educational backbone?

I just had another idea: change how we see teachers.

Any time we have a thought about someone or something, certain pictures come into our conscious minds that elicit feelings. What are the first thoughts and feelings that enter your mind when I say the word “hangover?” “Congratulations?” “Relationship?”

According to Miriam Webster, the definition of “teacher” is “one that teaches,” but a teacher does so much more than just teach, they’re tasked with being a dynamic influence on the futures of many people. When you hear the word “teacher,” what do you think? For me: authority figure, disciplinarian, tutor, school, homework, educator, and “Listen to me, David!!!” come to mind. For many students, especially those who can’t stand school, the word “teacher” carries a negative connotation. To my teacher friends, “teacher” means: underpaid, under appreciated, overworked, patience, work, school, sacrifice, stressful, and rigid, but also inspiration, understanding, leader, and mentor.

Speaking of the word “mentor,” according to Miriam Webster, the definition of “mentor” is “an experienced and trusted adviser.”

When I hear the word “mentor,” I think of someone who guides, inspires, and pushes me to be a better me. When it came to my teacher friends, they thought of guide, wants to make a difference, wisdom, teacher, role model, leader friend, confidant,

Though changing the title of “teacher” to “mentor,” may not overhaul people’s perceptions of education, it will help. The term “teacher” also serves as an abstraction that de-humanizes them and serves as a barrier in building relationships. Who do you think you would have a stronger relationship with, a teacher or a mentor? When I think of the dozens of people who have had a huge influence on my life, only five of them are teachers.

What if students saw their teachers as experienced and trusted advisers? How would they treat them? What if teachers saw themselves in the same way? If you were a mentor to your students, how would you approach your work differently? What if the government saw teachers as mentors instead, would, say, standardized tests be as important as they are now, does individual growth become more important?

Keep in mind, these are just ideas from one perspective. I’m no expert by any means, but I did stay in a- Nope! Not going to say it. I did not stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night, and am therefore not an expert on staying in Holiday Inn Expresses!

Sorry about that. Sometimes I think on my keyboard… Back to what I was saying.

I’m no expert on education by any means, but I think it’s time to start thinking of ideas for solutions that move us forward from getting mired in the problem. For change to occur, new perspectives are needed. That’s all I want to provide here. The world needs new ideas, and ideas are created by people like me and you. As they say, “Ideas are what built IKEAs, but ideas can also build better futures.”

(How many times can I write the word “idea” in one blog post?)

How do you think the ideas I presented would improve people? (People = the end product of our education system) What long-term problems can be solved if we learned concepts like empathy, appreciation, and creativity at a young age? What else do you think children could learn so they live a life that revolves around making the world better? If I were to call you a mentor, what do you picture yourself doing to earn that title? What ideas do you have that create a better world for yourself and those around you?

TED is a rabbit hole of useful information. Feel free to get lost in the ideas of these dynamic thinkers, working to make the educational system a better place. Trust me, it’s much more illuminating than falling into the Infinite Facebook Abyss:

“Never stop asking questions because the world is going to keep needing answers.” – Someone who answered the question “When do I stop asking questions?”

“Because without questions, there are no answers.” – The person who asked “When do I stop asking questions?” to his Motivational Quotes 101 professor following his response.

Okay, how many times did I use the word “ideas?”