Addressing Violence in America

Social justice cannot be attained by violence.
Violence kills what it intends to create.

~Pope John Paul II~

We often hear and speak of fighting a war on violence. Efforts in this direction often carry their own hostility. What can we do besides fighting another war? Such efforts only increase aggression in our society. If we don’t use forceful means, what can we do?

For starters we can learn to understand where violence comes from and what its intent is. In my last post I suggested ways to understand the mind of the murderer. We know that murderers and perpetrators of other violence are angry, frustrated and desperate. Yet we can’t go from one person to the next individually addressing what ails them. We also do not know which people are likely to act in a violent way. Psychologists, psychiatrists and sociologists have been trying for years to find satisfactory ways to predict violence in individuals. So far no good ways have emerged.

Does that mean we have to give up? No. It just means we need to address violence on several levels. These include personal, interpersonal, family, community and governmental approaches.

Your own mind and emotions as well as your reactions to what happens to you in life incline you toward being either a peaceful or violent person. Understanding and possibly changing yourself is a good place to start.

What happens between any two people affects how each of them, think, feel and act toward each other as well as toward others? Each interaction carries forward to the next encounter.

Families set the tone for young children. Children learn how to think, feel and act from their parents and older siblings. Although children encounter many other influences, their families set the tone for future learning.

How we interact with each others in our communities influences how we think, feel and act toward each other for better or worse. We can work together to make our communities peaceful or violent.

Our government consists of those we elect to lead us toward our goals. Violent, divisive or self absorbed leaders tear apart our society. Peaceful, considerate and supportive leaders help us build a healthy society.

I plan to write further posts addressing each of these approaches in more detail. Stay tuned.

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Inside a Killer’s Mind

  A murderer is regarded by the conventional world as something almost monstrous,
but a murderer to himself is only an ordinary man. It is only if the murderer
is a good man that he can be regarded as monstrous.

~Graham Greene~

We have had more than our share of unexplained shootings lately as well as a growing number of vehicle killings. I do not refer here to gang shootings, organized crime or war killings across the world. I mean what we call mass murders and random shootings now appearing around the world with troubling frequency.

Most of the time we don’t know what provoked the killer to take another’s life or many lives. We blame guns, mental illness, or political beliefs. Several years ago in the midst of the uproar about clergy sexually abusing children, no one seemed to care why they did it. Everyone looked for how to prevent it or punish it. We looked everywhere except inside the mind of the abuser. The same is now true of considering the killers among us.

We are too busy hating the killer to take time to understand him and it is usually him rather than her. Our anger rises to the surface. Our first thoughts are of vengeance and we are relieved if the murderer dies in the process or aftermath of the killing. But what about the murderer’s mind?

Can you imagine killing someone? I don’t think most of us reach this level of hatred without considerable provocation. Yet I do think that anger and hatred very often lie in the background. I don’t mean just a single incident resulting in anger. I dare say that people driven to murder usually experience a long history of very troublesome emotions.

A childhood marked by abuse, neglect, and even hatred shape and direct young or growing minds toward at least the possibility of violence. Being treated as if their lives have no value can leave some resentful toward society where they seem to find no acceptance. Being trained as a war machine can leave veterans estranged from traditional human values. Feeling left out of the privileges others seem to enjoy can build up resentment for society as a whole. Racial prejudice can leave people hating their oppressors. Even white men can feel left out of the benefits they see offered to those of other races.

Fortunately not all of these people end up as murderers. Yet many of them end up living angry lives and sometimes feel pushed to the extreme of violence and even murder. They are often drawn to anger-­driven groups and movements. To my mind, those who reach this extreme state feel isolated, unvalued, persecuted, treated unfairly, and generally left out of society which they come to see as their enemy. Maybe what they want is to be taken seriously or to be recognized as being of some significance.

What can we do about it as a society? That’s another topic which I will leave for the next post.

Action Steps

  • Think of the time in your life when you were your angriest.
  • What got you to that point?
  • How did you want to react?
  • How did you actually handle it?
  • What would have helped you handle it better?
  • How well do you handle your anger now?

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  • Have you ever wondered how to feel more at peace in you body, in your mind or in your soul?
  • Would you like to know more about the daily challenges we all face and what to do about them?
  • How can you make your relationships with others more harmonious?

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Cultivating Happiness

Happiness

We all want to be happy. The right to pursue happiness is even written into our country’s bill of rights. But how does one do that? Is it even possible to become a happier person? And if so, what’s the best way to go about it? Researchers in the field of positive psychology have been studying these questions and the answers are encouraging. Turns out you can genuinely increase your happiness and overall satisfaction with life—and it doesn’t require a winning lottery ticket or some other drastic change of circumstances. What it takes is an inner change of perspective and attitude. And that’s truly good news, because it’s something that anyone can do.

(Excerpt from article in HelpGuide.org. Read More)

Teens Being Teased: Karen’s Story

By Joseph Langen

Karen didn’t think much about herself one way or another when she was younger. In middle school she decided she was okay and gave it no more thought. Now she wonders what’s wrong with her. The problem started when a few girls in her class teased her. Then some boys started teasing her too. She became convinced that something must be wrong with her.

She couldn’t figure out why they were teasing her. Her body had more curves now than it did before, but she didn’t have a wart on her nose or smell weird. When she walked with her friends at school, nobody bothered her. When she was alone, a group of girls would look at her as if a dog threw up on her. If they said anything to her it was how awful her blouse looked, how old fashioned her shoes were, or that her hair looked like a rat’s nest.

After this started to happen she spent a good amount of time before school looking at herself in the mirror to see if anything was out of place. As far as she could see, she wore the same clothes as everybody else. She still had the same hairstyle as before they started teasing her. What else could it be?

She didn’t want her parents to worry about her so she said nothing about it to them. She tried to pretend everything was okay. Her mother looked at her with her head cocked to one side. She always did this when she knew there was something Karen was hiding.

Karen was embarrassed to tell her friends about what the girls did, and now the boys. They would probably think she was crazy. Her friends still joked with her, shared their secrets and listened to hers. Maybe she was being too sensitive and just needed to wait until the whole thing blew over.

She decided to ride it out but more and more girls and also boys kept up their mean comments. She had never been mean to anyone and couldn’t make any sense of it. One day during recess, she found herself alone in the lav sitting on the toilet with her head in her hands and her eyes welling up with tears.

Thinking back over her misery that night while trying to get to sleep, she realized she had to do something. She wanted to handle it herself but that wasn’t working out very well. Her best friend Jen was a good listener and might have some ideas for her. At least it would feel good to get it off her chest.

The next day after English class, she asked Jen if she could come over to her house after school. Jen agreed. Up in her room with the door closed, Karen just sat for a few minutes without saying anything. Jen realized it was up to her to start the conversation. “OK Karen, I know something’s going on. You’ve been quieter than usual, and I haven’t seen your toothpaste smile lately. What gives?”

“It’s hard to talk about, and don’t laugh. A few weeks ago a few girls started teasing me for no reason I could think of. They kept it up and got their friends and a few of the boys to start teasing me as well.

“I knew something was going on. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I was afraid you might think I was crazy or imagining it. I don’t know what to make of myself these days. Is there something wrong with me or something weird?”

“Don’t you think I would tell you if there was? Would I let you get picked on? I’m your best friend, remember?”

“I know you are but I didn’t know what to say. I can’t think of anything to do to make them stop. I don’t know what I can change about myself to make me seem more normal. Can you help?”

“I’d be glad to help. We just have to figure out what’s going on.”

“I’ve been trying. Could you start by telling me how I might look to them?”

“Without knowing you, here is what I would see. You are a very pretty girl. You don’t wear much makeup but you don’t need to. Your skin is very smooth and almost glows. When you wear you hair down, any boy would want to run his hands through it to see how silky it is. From what I can tell with your clothes on, you have average size breasts which seem to fit your body perfectly. The rest of your body is very well proportioned too. No flab that I can see, but also not too skinny.

“The clothes you are wearing right now show off your body to good advantage but don’t look cheap, attractive without looking like a floozy. Nothing you have on looks ridiculous. At first glance, I can’t see anything to tease you about if I wanted to.”

“So maybe it’s not about my body or clothes. Are you sure you’re not just saying that to make me feel better?”

“You asked me to be honest. I am. That’s what I see.”

“Thanks. Okay, what else do people see about me?”

“That’s easy. You seem like a bright girl, intelligent and funny and sure of yourself. You are on the honor roll, play basketball and soccer and lead the debate club. You’re always kind and polite to everyone. You aren’t snooty and never come across as thinking you are better than anyone else. You’re generous and helpful when anyone needs you.”

“You make me sound like a saint!”

“You practically are. I can’t think of anything you could change to make yourself any better.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“Did you ever think that the problem isn’t you? “I just told you how I see you. Don’t you think some of the girls at school might be jealous of you?”

“What? I never thought of that.”

“I think it’s a good possibility.”

“What should I do about it- try to look ugly or start screwing up my life?”

“Then they would really have something to tease you about. Let’s talk with our friends  and see what we can do together to get you off the hot seat. We will all work on it together.”

“Thanks, Jen. Now I know why you are my best friend.”

*****

So that’s what it might be like for one teen. Finding someone to help you isn’t the end of the story. But it helps to know you don’t have to face your problem on your own.

Excerpt from my book Make the Best of Your Teen Years:105 Ways to Do It. For a free sample, follow this link and choose See Inside.

Souls in Flight

 

 

Alone in his room, alone in his mind

No one to share, no one to care

Guns at the ready, loaded and locked

Sights cleaned and polished, mounted and focused

Bags crumpled and empty, his hiding completed

Ammo in clips, stocks oiled and burnished

His mind was empty, his feelings aside

The shooter takes aim and squeezes the trigger.

 

Where was his soul, who knew his fate?

Who will miss him and then wonder why

Fate brought him this far and left him to die,

A soul which flies and dashes to pieces?

His life left in ashes adrift in the wind,

No honor left here, no story to tell.

 

Fifty­ nine souls freed from their hosts

All came for music to brighten their lives.

They hoped for a story to carry back home

Of songs which they liked and maybe they loved.

Their troubles forgotten at least for the time,

No fears for the future, no time for that now,

The music consumed them and lifted their souls

A flash in the sky and then there was silence.

 

Their souls were enchanted and ready to fly.

Not ready to leave, not really their choice,

Their time had arrived with no warning in sight

Their memory stays, their future cut short,

Their stories now passed to those they loved best

Before they expected, it came time to rest.

 

Five twenty ­eight, the number of those

Who were touched by a bullet but not left ice cold.

An instant of fear, but no time to wonder

If next they would live or cease to exist.

The music cut short, panic ensued

Everyone running, ducking for cover.

Would they be among those with stories to tell

Or would they be silenced and murdered as well.

 

Their souls remained, their lives left in tatters

So close to death but spared for a while

Not this time but maybe not too far ahead

A chance for another, a more thoughtful life.

The stories now theirs, they speak in the stead

Of those whom they left and whose lives they now led.

 

 

 

 

 

What Follows Trump and Trumpism?

Review­ of One Nation After Trump­ by E.J. Dionne, Norman  Ornstein, and Thomas Mann

 

I happened upon this book in The Bunch of Grapes, an independent bookstore in Martha’s Vineyard which I have never left without finding a writing treasure.  I picked up and put down the book several times. Did I really want to delve any further into the Trump quagmire? I finally let my sense of obligation to my country overcome the increasing trepidation I have felt since the last election day.

I feared it might just be another diatribe against Trump. I imagined everything the authors might say. Once I began the book, I discovered that they had a plan which made sense to me and offered hope for the future of our country.

They distinguished between the person of Donald Trump and his disregard for the traditions, values and customs of our country and the movement of Trumpism which has taken on a life of its own and created its own horrors.

Part one chronicles the descent of the disaffected into a world of resentment, cynicism and anger about the loss of standing, chiefly of white males who have declined from the relative prosperity they had achieved over many decades. This dissatisfaction has focused on non-­whites and immigrants as the reason for their decline. Their white plight has resulted in a combination of racism directed toward minorities who could further erode their economic well-being and protectionism from those who would come to their country and take what little they had left. In addition to explaining the nature of this movement, the authors also demonstrate how cultural, economic and political trends have fueled the rise of Trumpism over a period of decades.

The second part of the book outlines possibilities for moving forward as a society rather than disintegrating into irrelevance. They suggest ways that patriotism can be reborn, how a new civil society can be reborn and how conservative and progressive ways of thought can come together to restore our standing with ourselves and with other nations while bringing hope to disaffected white males as well as the groups against which they rail.

In my opinion, this book is a comprehensive, thoroughly researched manual for understanding the state to which we have descended and ways we can all work together to bring ourselves back to our roots and convictions.

How to understand and deal with terrorism

If we continue to create a world where there is poverty and disrespect,
there will continue to be terrorism.

~Jodie Evans~

Lately, it has become common to associate terrorism with religious groups, particularly radical extremists within Islam. Ben Norton quotes Max Abrahms’ observation that scholars have traditionally conceived of terrorism as, “a political communication strategy in which groups use violence to amplify their grievances and the costs to the target countries of ignoring them.” He notes that no one claims responsibility for the majority of terrorist attacks unless they have something to gain from it politically.

Abrahms notes that terrorist groups are not acting with a common motivation. He sees these groups as varying significantly. He also cites differences in motivation between the leaders of such groups and those actually carrying out the terrorist acts.

Daniel Pipes writes in an article in the New York Sun that at one time terrorists generally noted their goals such as the release of imprisoned members of their groups. In more recent times, demands are not usually made before acting and terrorist attacks take place without any announcement of what the terrorists are aiming to accomplish. He suggests possible motivations such as personal grievances of individual terrorists related to their anger about poverty, cultural alienation or prejudice, and attempts to get various governments to change their policies. Lately, a major goal has been the establishment of a caliphate, although it is unclear what that would actually mean if the goal was met.

It is easy to forget the role of our country in creating terrorist movements. In the case of ISIS, the United States and other Western powers–probably unintentionally–destabilized the government of Iraq through misguided intervention and left a power vacuum and lack of leadership as well as warring factions. This in turn created fertile ground for the roots of ISIS to take hold.

There is no easy solution to dealing with ISIS or other terrorist organizations. Their leaders are bent on destroying the influence of the “devil” United States in the Middle East. Reasoning with them does not appear to be a promising strategy.

Many of those at the bottom of terrorist ranks who actually carry out the terrorist attacks are alienated individuals who see life as holding no future for them, at least on Earth. These people tend to escape our notice, much as do youths with potential violence in their future in our own country.

Tori DeAngelis suggests characteristics of potential recruits to terrorist organizations stated by John Horgan, director of the Pennsylvania State University Center for the Study of Terrorism:

  • Feeling angry, alienated or disenfranchised
  • Believing that their current political involvement does not give them the power to effect real change
  • Identifying with perceived victims of the social injustice they are fighting
  • Feeling the need to take action rather than just talking about the problem
  • Believing that engaging in violence against the state is not immoral
  • Having friends or family sympathetic to the cause
  • Believing that joining a movement offers social and psychological rewards such as adventure, camaraderie and a heightened sense of identity

As a world society, it is our challenge to identify these people, understand their frustrations, and help them see more constructive alternatives. This is a big order one more humane than trying to destroy everyone with such leanings.

Joanne Bourke in her book, Deep Violence, says, “Evidence suggests that killing leaders of terrorist organizations pushes those groups into becoming more aggressive, in part by fueling fury about the power of Western nations such as the US.” This piece of wisdom should humble us and remind us that we are not all powerful.

DeAngelis suggests that there are several promising avenues of approach to changing the “hearts and minds of terrorist detainees.” These include:

  • Engaging moderate Muslim clerics to work with them focusing on the “true teachings of the Qur’an” about jihad and violenceShowing authentic concern about their families through real life programs to improve their family functioning
  • Engaging reformed former terrorists in efforts to help others understand that “violence against civilians compromises the image of Islam”

Before such efforts can lead to success, those working with captured terrorists must first manage their own perceptions and emotions about the people with whom they work, looking beyond their initial reactions. Next, let’s take a look at violence in our culture not related to terrorism.

(Excerpt from my book, From Violence to Peace. For a free sample of this book, follow this link and choose “Look Inside.”)

How to balance life, religion and spirituality

Sunrise over Lemon Bay

Sunrise over Lemon Bay

Life is your adventure. Religion and spirituality can help you make sense of your life and navigate its challenges. When was the last time you stopped to consider what your life is all about? Why are you here on Earth? Children hear that they can be anything they want to be when they grow up. That is not quite true. Some paths require resources, money, skills or connections which might not be readily available to you. Your choices are not unlimited. 

Yet you still have many options available to you. Your family, friends, life circumstances and talents guided you toward certain paths. Those paths, suggested by people who care about you, might have been easier to follow than forging your own path, although theirs might not take you quite where you want or expect to go. More challenging paths await you down the road. These will require more effort from you when they are less familiar. Yet they might be more satisfying in the long run as you learn to manage them.
If fame, fortune and power are your main goals in life, you probably see little need for religion or spirituality. You will pursue your goals at all costs regardless of the effect on your life and the lives of those you encounter on your way through life. But you could end up living in a spiritual vacuum. You might want to at least think of reconsidering your priorities. Religion and spirituality are important to people who want their lives to be about something more than what they can grab for themselves. They form a context for living a life directed toward a higher calling.
When I was a child, a “vocation” was considered a call from God to pursue a higher purpose. At that time it meant being called to be a priest or a nun. Later it came to mean living any life in the context of a greater meaning.
How to find meaning outside the limited context of your little world is not always obvious. Where do you start? What are the steps? Spirituality is the process of finding, accepting and sharing the larger meaning of being alive as you journey through life. You can learn from others on a similar path to yours and share what you learn with your fellow travelers.
Religions are formalized systems intended to help you find the meaning for which you search on your spiritual journey. Obviously various religious systems cannot all be the one true path to spirituality and to God although many claim to be the only right way. Regardless of their claims, most religions start with the same premise, offering a way to live in unity between you and God.
How do you know if you are on the right path? Spirituality and religion both suggest reflection and meditation. If you never stop to see where you have been, where you are headed and the effect of your choices on you and those around you, you have no way to check your course or predict where you will end up.
Honest reflection will help you evaluate your life path to see whether it is taking you in the right direction. If you are hurting yourself or someone else as you proceed, you might have made a wrong turn and need a course correction.

How do I get my body to be at peace?

How do you get your body to be at peace and in harmony? Once you see the answers to this question, they might seem like common sense. Unfortunately we do not always use common sense in our approach to our bodies. Sometimes we take partial or baby steps. That’s a good start, but the more you understand about your body’s needs and the more you treat your body kindly, the more at peace you will find yourself.
What does a peaceful body look like? On the surface your brow is smooth and not wrinkled in distress. Your face is calm; your hands are relaxed and your fists are not clenched. You stand straight and are not stooped over under the weight of your daily stress.
Looking inside, your bloodstream is distributing nourishment and collecting waste and not chronically clogged with stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. As we saw before, these hormones serve a useful purpose in preparing you for approaching danger and shutting down regular functions of your body not specifically needed to fight stress.
This is fine when your body is under attack, and you need to defend yourself or get you out of harm’s way. Yet immediate threats pass fairly quickly, and your body hopefully returns to a more relaxed and peaceful state. When you are constantly beset by worrisome thoughts, emotions or both, your body stays in a state of high alert preventing you from feeling at peace and eventually exhausting you and keeping you from living a productive life. Your body, mind, emotions and spirit are all interconnected.
Your blood pressure, pulse, and heart rate all rise when you are in a state of stress or anxiety and become lower when your body is at peace. When you are peaceful, you have more energy to use in constructive activities rather that spending it all fighting stress.
Once you get stress out of your life, you will find that in addition to more energy you will a better appetite and better digestion. Rather than finding natural ways to achieve peace within your body, you might be tempted to seek the help of prescription drugs, alcohol or street drugs as a way to compensate for the unrest inside you. Chemical approaches can be helpful at times. Yet better long-term results can be found by considering changes in the way you live your life. What changes? That’s a long story which I will get to another time.