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.

Why Does This Keep Happening?

When you turn on the news, how do you feel?

When you think about how a human being can do something so barbaric, how does that make you feel?

When you hop on your social media and read people’s comments, what feeling does that create?

When you hear stories about the kindness, generosity, and heroic sacrifices of others, what do you feel?

Which of those feelings do you want to feel more of?

Is this going to be a blog post with only questions?

Allow me to answer that with a question: with so many people offering the same right/wrong, black/white, conservative/liberal opinions, wouldn’t it be nice to hear something different?

How can we bring more feelings of inspiration, love, abundance, joy, compassion, and meaning into the world?

What if each of us set out on our days to spread these feelings to others? What if we refocus our perspective of work, success, and life itself onto making the ultimate goal the spreading of those feelings?

What if, every day, we focused on bettering ourselves rather than being better than others?

What if, no matter the ideologies, opinions, and actions of others, we still responded with compassion and love?

How would your personal relationships be different?

Would your professional relationships become more personal?

What if we spent more time educating our children on kindness, working together, and understanding those different than us?

What if we were to measure our success by the number of people we serve?

What if we smiled more at strangers?

What if we accepted the imperfections of our humanity and laughed more at ourselves?

What if we looked at our differences in thought, belief, and action as opportunities to understand more about each other?

Would this make it easier to work together?

How could our different perspectives be combined to make the world a better place?

How would the world be different if we focused on solutions instead of the severity of problems?

If, every day, most people felt love, joy, compassion, abundance, inspiration and meaning, do you think they would want to inflict harm unto others verbally, emotionally, or physically?

What does that world look like?

How does that make you feel?

How can you share this feeling with everyone around you?

Can darkness exist where there is light?

Can fear, anger, bigotry, and hatred exist where there is love, compassion, understanding, and joy?

Does pointing out the faults of others show them how to grow?

Is fighting anger, hatred, and fear with anger, hatred and fear creating less anger, hatred, and fear?

What feelings does every human being strive for?

This keeps happening because we keep responding the same way. This has nothing to do with politics, being right or wrong, or even guns; it’s much more basic than all of these things. This has everything to do with being a human being, and the most human feelings we can feel are love, joy, compassion, understanding, freedom, kindness, and a desire to grow.

So what can you do to create those feelings within yourself?

What can you do, starting now, to inspire those feelings within others?

Start now. Share with others.

Let’s change the narrative and make the world and the people in it better together.

 

Shooting the Blame

Is it too soon for a shooting joke? I write comedy, so I need to know when it’s not too soon. Shootings seem to be happening so frequently that it’s always going to be too soon, which is unfortunate. Not about it being too soon to joke, but about the frequency of shootings. The question that needs to be asked is “Why?” In the case of the Elliot Rodger shooting, male misogyny and societal expectations of sex were blamed. In the Columbine shooting, bullying was blamed. In the Sandy Hook shooting, mental health issues were blamed. And in all shootings, lack of gun control is blamed. Notice a common theme here? No matter the news story, there’s always someone or something to blame, and this way of thinking is teaching people that they are no longer responsible for their actions. Why are all of these shootings happening? Here’s a hint, it has nothing to do with guns or bullying – it’s about character. Each of the people who carried out these shootings lacked character, and by blaming something else, we sacrifice character in order to explain why we do what we do, and this leaves little room for growth. The idea that outside circumstances explain why we do what we do has been the basis for social science as we know it – psychology, sociology, and political science – since the latter half of the 19th century. Placing the blame on the environment means that people are no longer responsible for their actions since the causes lie in the situation and not the person. But we don’t take credit away from anyone if they succeed at something. If an actor gives a brilliant performance, we don’t say, “It’s because of his acting coach and the fact that he had supportive parents,” we give the actor the credit he deserves. So why do we place the blame for someone’s negative action on outside circumstances?

            By blaming outside circumstances, it makes solving the problem at hand much more difficult. If you want to fix a leaking drain pipe, you don’t replace the faucet. When we blame the situation, it advocates being driven by the past rather than by the future. It makes us victims to someone or something else and we become powerless to change anything. We even miss out on the credit for our success, which undermines our confidence and proves that “nothing we do matters.” False. When we realize that we are responsible for our results, we look for what we might have done better and then work on that area. Rather than banning guns, bullying, or violent video games and movies, we need to educate people on real life skills that each of us use every day. Teaching self-esteem, confidence, personal responsibility, effective communication, goal-setting, and positive mental fitness is just as important, if not more, than teaching math, science, and history. If these shooters had just learned the power of taking personal responsibility for their actions leading up to these tragedies, their self-confidence would be at a healthier level and we wouldn’t be having this conversation today. But when we learn that our situations in life aren’t our fault through the media and our conditioning, we feel like our lives are out of our hands and we blame others for our suffering. We must stop blaming and start educating – ourselves and others – to take back control over our lives and make peace and cooperation our common goal. In developed countries, the world is arguably better than it’s ever been! We have more purchasing power than ever before, more people are going to college than ever before, there are more cars than there are drivers, and there’s an app for everything! But depression rates are growing – the mean onset age of depression is down from 29.5 years old to 14.5 years old in just 50 years! We’ve been going the blaming route for awhile now, and these senseless acts of violence are still happening. Isn’t it time to try something different? We all share this planet, why are we finger-pointing and focusing on the problem instead of focusing on the solution: becoming responsible for the one thing we all have control over. Ourselves. That is how we can bring positive change to the world, one person at a time.

Here’s an alternate take from my web series “Creative Differences” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oL8d0MSCKiU