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.

2017 Lesson 1: Follow the Creators

Another year has come and gone, and with it: lessons learned, friendships made, and successes achieved.
First of all, I want to wish everyone a Happy New Year and a congratulations for making it through 2017. Without all of you, I’d just be creating characters and screaming in different accents inside of a padded room, so I just want to say thank you for supporting my mission – because that’s what it is. David Horning has an agenda to inspire others to be more engaged, excited, and happy about the endless opportunities to serve other people and make the world a better place, all while referring to himself in the third person.
In the last year, I grew substantially, but I also regressed in some ways, which I don’t have a problem admitting. Imperfection goes hand-in-hand with being human, but the key to living a fulfilling life is growing from those missteps. When I sat down to write down the lessons I learned last year, I thought, “Oh this’ll be quick. I’ll jot down a few things, elaborate a bit, and post it.”
Those “few” things ended up being 22, so I decided it would be easier to split these lessons up into multiple posts after narrowing down 22 to 7.
Over the next week, I want to share the most important things that I learned this year that you too can use to make your 2018 better than your 2017, or as I say:

Make 2018 20Gr18

Cue groans.
I’ll also be posting some predictions for next year that I’m 100% positive will happen because I’m basically Nostradamus and you can bet on this stuff.

What I Learned #1: Listen to the creators

We live in a world where we are being bombarded by noise from all angles, especially with so much content being posted on social media at all hours of the day. According to Dr. Joseph Dispenza, our brains are absorbing 400 billion bits of information every second, but we’re only aware of 2,000 of those. Without you even knowing, your brain is picking and choosing what information you’re even aware of existing. Our brains don’t care which information is helping us or hurting us, it just filters out what it determines is useful based on where our conscious attention is going most often.
With the election of a controversial president, my social media feed was overflowing with articles, videos, and soundbytes calling him out for not exactly behaving like a leader. Considering my speaking presentations and most of my research are founded upon what makes a good leader, I spent too much time falling into the social media vortex and finding myself getting angrier and angrier. As the months wore on, I kept hearing the same complaints and criticisms and not seeing any actions being taken, so I decided to shift my focus.

Instead of focusing on information that lowers my happiness and diverts my attention from what I care about, I chose to unfollow and unsubscribe to many news sources and even friends who continued to post negative content without taking any meaningful action.

Because I was spending so much time focusing on what I didn’t want, my attention was drawn away from what I wanted. Over the second half of 2017, I began paying closer attention to the organizations and individuals leading the charge in revolutionizing education (Sir Ken Robinson, Peter Diamandis, The Learning Revolution Project) and renewable energy (Elon Musk, Tesla). TED Talks became a part of my routine, and I invested more time and energy in reading books to help grow myself, rather than getting sucked into the black hole that can be the internet. Instead of being pessimistic about the future, I started getting excited and am now energized by the information I consume instead of being drained by it.

What are you passionate about? What makes you angry? Now take the effort to learn who is focused on creating solutions to these problems and find a way to contribute, either by sharing the good news or by actually taking action and getting out into the community to do something about it. It’s one thing to draw attention to what we don’t want in the world, but to continue to draw attention to it over and over is doing a disservice to yourself and the people in your circle. Follow the creators and become a creator yourself – from personal experience, you’ll feel excited, energized, and ready to take on the world.

2018 Prediction #1: Donald Trump will not be pictured with a llama

I know this one is controversial, but I just don’t think it’s going to happen. A horse, cow, or chimpanzee? Sure. But llamas don’t equal ratings, and ratings are the most important part of being president.