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.

 

What if YOU’RE the Douchebag? (And How to Stop)

“I don’t understand why people are being such douchebags to me today. It’s pissing me off!”

I work a couple of nights a week at a restaurant and last night, one of the servers came up to me with a scowl on his face with plenty to say about how he felt he was being treated by a table.

I get it; sometimes we have to deal with some downright miserable people who snap at us to get our attention, who use sarcasm when sarcasm isn’t necessary, or who are just downright rude. Truth: they all exist and we’re sharing the world with them, but guess what? You have no control over their douchiness, but you DO have control over yours.

“But I’m not a douchebag. I’m a good person!”

Do you think the people being douchebags refer to themselves as douchebags?

Of course not! They think they’re good people. In fact, maybe they think YOU’RE the one being the douchebag.

“But THEY’RE the one being the douche! Not me!”

I understand. I’ve been there too. But because our focus is so stuck on THEIR doucheliness, it makes it harder to realize the impact of our own behavior. Maybe they started it, but it’s our response that determines how the situation plays out.

I used to think other people were douchebags, but this made me angry, and I don’t like it when I’m angry. Instead of becoming hostile, I accept their douchism and respond with calm, understanding acceptance. Okay, so they were rude to you, but getting pissed off about it only adds more douchiness to the world. If you don’t want other people to get their douche on you, do your part and don’t spread YOUR douche around.We’ve all had bad days – at one point or another we’ve all been the douche – so realize that something happened to evoke this douche-tastic behavior when someone else is douching everywhere, and let the douche spew roll right off of you. What they need is an understanding smile and the realization that you’re on their side, not a reason to turn up the douche.

After all, we can only control how we respond, so think about it in this way:

The next time you think “What a friggin douche-turd! He shouldn’t be such a douche to me,” re-frame the thought to put yourself back in control of your response.

  1. I shouldn’t be such a douche to myself
  2. I shouldn’t be such a douche to him

Now think about the opposite of douchiness: kindness.

  1. I should show kindness to myself
  2. I should show kindness to him

The person may continue to have a douche-gasm, but remember, you can only control YOUR response and their behavior has no control over you unless you allow it to happen.

If someone else is having a bad day, don’t get in their way so you have a bad day too – maintain self-control, and have some understanding that we’re each doing the best with what we know. Unfortunately, all some people know is how to be a douchebag.

Don’t be that person.

When Did You Stop Singing?: What Caitlyn Jenner Taught Me

When did you stop singing? Going through school, I noticed that the older I got, fewer and fewer people openly sang, and by the time we got to junior high, singing in public became basically uncool – even if it was in a setting where we were SUPPOSED to sing. It wasn’t cool to sing in music class, church, or into the PA system of a grocery store, so people stopped singing altogether. “What will So-And-So think if I sing? Even though I want to, I’m not going to.” “What’s-Her-Face isn’t singing, so I’m not going to sing either.” “Last time I sang, Cool Guy looked at me funny and started laughing with his friends, probably at me, so I’m not singing anymore.” We become so self-conscious of what others think of us, that we hide our authentic selves from being seen. We WANT to sing, but unless it’s in the shower or in our cars by ourselves, we’re afraid to put ourselves on the line because of what others may or may not think of us. Here’s what I’ve realized: those who criticize or condemn something that someone else does are insecure about who they are because they’ve been going through life suppressing their authentic selves. Subconsciously, they don’t want others to be authentic because THEY’RE not being authentic. It’s the, “I’m not having any fun, why should they?” principle. I know this because I’ve done it. For example, in junior high, I went to school with a girl who claimed to be part-wolf. She even went as far as bathing herself by licking her arms and rubbing her face with them in the middle of class. My friends and I all laughed at her and made fun of her because her actions weren’t fitting within the parameters of what we considered normal. Being an only child for nine years, I didn’t have anyone at my disposal to wrestle with, so I wrestled myself in my family room probably up until I was in high school. I would have never done this in public because I would have been embarrassed, but it was a lot of fun and I enjoyed doing it. Weird, yes, but why do we try to shoehorn ourselves into the parameters of “being normal” when we’re not being ourselves? It’s a compromise to our own authenticity; to our happiness. It’s why I create characters and do comedy now – so I can be myself and center my life around being myself.
When Bruce Jenner decided to finally release the self that he had suppressed his entire life, people were outraged. From my perspective, calling it an LGBT issue is short-sighted and barely scratching the surface – it’s much deeper than that. By revealing herself and making herself vulnerable, Caitlyn Jenner taught us a lesson that is being misconstrued by many of the people that I’ve seen who have offered an opinion on it: be yourself. Those who are angry aren’t angry because she “switched” from being a man to being a woman, they’re angry because they don’t have the courage to be themselves, so they’re misplacing it onto someone who does. If, deep down, who we are isn’t “popular,” or “acceptable to societal standards,” we suppress this part of ourselves until we become afraid to sing. When this happens, often the next step is to try to bring those down who have no problem singing their lungs out so that we have company in our misery. This behavior is subconscious and we don’t realize why we do it. It’s a defense mechanism that we use to avoid the facts. The conversation about Caitlyn is often deferred to politics, morals, or something that is actually completely unrelated and the lesson that is sitting right there in front of us is overlooked: have the courage to be yourself. If you catch yourself talking critically about someone else, ask yourself the question, “How am I holding myself back?” because that’s the subconscious reason why you’re trying to take away from others in the first place. Think of it this way: if you were an alien, disguising yourself in order to live on Earth, you would become gradually unhappy because you couldn’t be the real you. You’d want to levitate to the rooftops and shout, “I’M AN ALIEN AND I HAVE POWERS!” while zapping the next pigeon that gets close to you. Zapping pigeons is frowned upon in our society. So is levitating and being an alien, but if these were things that were part of who you are and you couldn’t do them openly, how could you claim to be happy? We only live once (as far as we know), so why not be the you who makes you the happiest? That is, be the you that you were before you became afraid to sing. Studies are consistently showing that we perform most effectively when we’re coming from a place of happiness, and we are our happiest when we are ourselves.
What if we had the courage to be ourselves? I’m talking about the “dance like no one’s watching” selves we all have tapped into at one point or another. How freeing does it feel to have this mentality? We’ve all felt it. Whether you’re an artist born into a family of doctors who insist on you being a doctor, someone who finds freedom in singing and dancing while walking down the street, or Xantha, a mystical interplanetary being forced to live in exile on the planet Earth for 450 human years, your life becomes authentic if you just allow yourself to be yourself without worrying about what So-And-So, What’s-Her-Face, and Cool Guy think. Finding our way out from under all of the layers of “You should do it this way,” and, “Why are you acting that way?” takes a concentrated effort. It’s like finding that note you wrote to your friends in 4th grade that you know you saved, but you’re not sure which box it’s in – it’s there, you just have to make the effort to get to it. Start singing again. Be confident in who you really are, and when you hear people snickering and criticizing, realize it’s because they’re jealous of your courage to just be yourself.

“I want to be around people that do things. I don’t want to be around people anymore that judge or talk about what people do. I want to be around people that dream and support and do things.”
― Amy Poehler

They Live in Paradise…

“They live in paradise, I wonder if they’ll ever know it.” When Hindu guru Muktananda visited the United States for the first time, he noticed everyone rushing around the airport, in such a hurry that no one was taking the time to take it all in and really enjoy it. Our buddy Mookie came from a monastic lifestyle in India, where he had no running water, no electricity, and very basic food. He was astonished, not at the well-lit, well-furnished, shiny airport with dozens of choices of food and drink, but at the way people seemed to not be appreciating any of it. Many of us live our lives this way and we fail to appreciate and be grateful for the fact that the world is the best it has ever been. We don’t have to worry about our villages being pillaged on a daily basis, we aren’t executed for looking at a white woman wrong, and smallpox doesn’t wipe out populations anymore. There’s now 1 car for every 2 drivers, 1 out of 2 children go on to post-high school education, technology is helping us become more efficient, people have more rights in more places, and acceptance is being brought to the forefront of social issues. Yet, the number of cases of depression is the highest it has ever been and the median onset age of depression is now 14.5 years old, down from 29.5 just fifty years ago.

What is paradise? A yacht with an exotic parrot, sun tanned ladies and decanters of the finest scotch? A private jet with caviar, cashmere sweaters, and Bono? To one person those things might seem like paradise. To someone who hates boats and will never forgive Bono for siding with John Kerry in 2004, that might seem like a nightmare. The answer: paradise is whatever you make of it. Whether you live a life of diamond-encrusted jackets and constant visits to the beach, or you prefer microwave popcorn for dinner with a Netflix rerun of House of Cards, paradise can be anything. Disclaimer: I’m not saying “Hey, you should make microwave popcorn dinners and watch threesomes with the future president for six hours every night,” I’m saying, “Make the best of every moment, no matter what it is.” Even if you’re getting murdered and you let out a, “Lovely weather we’re having,” rather than an, “AAAAHHHHH!!! Don’t’ kill me!!!” the assailant will be thrown off by your unpredictable attitude, thereby leaving him vulnerable; all because you chose to make the best of the situation. If you’re bored, annoyed, angry, stressed, neutral, constipated, upside down on a jungle gym and panicking because you’re unable to figure out how to get yourself back on your feet – it doesn’t matter – always ask yourself a few simple questions. Is what I’m doing going to get me closer to my paradise? Is what I’m saying going to help or hurt my cause? Do I have anything in my teeth? If I were to make the most out of this situation, would it look like what I’m doing it right now? If in ten years, I were to be that perfect me on that yacht with a scotch in one hand, and a beautiful blue marlin in the other hand, would I look back at this moment and say, “Throwing that brick through that trashy skank’s windshield helped me get here.”? Chances are, probably not, because no matter how trashy the skank, truly happy people don’t hurl bricks through windshields. That’s not paradise. Just imagine enjoying life all the time. You don’t have to get pissed when someone talks about you, when the waiter brings the wrong type of pasta, or when the Patriots lose. In fact be the opposite. Even if the service is shitty, if you’re a good sport about it, your server will make sure to focus on you if you’re the nice table rather than the “table with the heinous bitch.” Although getting angry seems like the right thing to do at the time, those are your outdated evolutionary instincts telling you to fight or flight, and they have no idea what they’re talking about. They don’t have to worry about saber-toothed tigers anymore, so they take increased offense to the asshole who just made eye contact with you instead. Ignore them, because that bouncer in the corner will drag you out of that bar by your neck if you if you don’t. And believe me – no one likes to end the story about their night with, “Yeah, and then Jeff got kicked out of the bar so we left.” Thanks, Jeff. If we face a situation with a positive outlook, our brains actually become more creative than if we insist that being buried alive has ruined our night by panicking. When I say “make the best out of every situation,” I mean, “make the BEST out of every situation.”

A good situation to apply this principle to is work. We’ve all worked jobs we don’t like, but if you approach work with a positive attitude and a smile on your face, you have to have a better day than if you’re thinking, “I hate my job, I don’t want to be here, kill me.” Our brains act on what we tell them to act on, so if all we think about is how bored we are, we have no choice to be bored because we’re looking for the reasons to be bored. We’re willingly making ourselves bored and then we complain about it! There are always positive sides to everything, if we look for those rather than the negatives, we’ll find more reasons to be positive. All it takes is a simple shift in thinking. Even if you’re forced to sit through a boring presentation at work, with a different perspective you can even get something out of diversity day. A boring guest speaker can go from being a boring guest speaker to an opportunity to learn how to not give a presentation with a simple shift in thinking. It’s much easier to handle life’s punches when you can find the positives because, again, our brains act on what we tell them to act on. If you keep looking for the positive, it will become easier and easier to find it, even in the most trying of situations.

We can create our own paradise right now because all we have is right now. If we spend our days waiting for our paradise, then I hope you like waiting, because if we see it as always being in the future, there it shall remain. But if we decide to make the most out of our present, our paradise can begin right now. Who in their right mind doesn’t want that?