You can’t build a house without first making sure you have a strong foundation. You can try, and it might even look good at the beginning, but eventually storms will come and blow against the house. Rain may pour down and wash away the soil from beneath the building and ultimately the house will weaken and collapse, making you no better off than before you built it.
This is also true of changing habits and behaviors. You can stop smoking. You can stop drinking. You can refrain from over reacting or getting angry. However, as soon as you are triggered, you will go back to the most familiar solution.
In order to actually permanently change behaviors, you have to change the feelings, thoughts and beliefs that trigger them. Otherwise they will continue to happen.
Yes, it’s good to stop smoking. It’s healthier to control your alcohol intake. It’s more beneficial to your relationships if you are not so reactive. Generally these things can be halted temporarily. But to make the changes permanent, you must change your beliefs about them and why you think they are helpful.
The same goes for trying to change a culture.
Yes, everyone is in agreement that school massacres must stop and it’s, of course, reasonable to want something done immediately. And it’s not a bad idea to do something right away. It serves the same purpose as a band aid. It protects the wound from getting worse. But we must remember that you cannot keep piling band aids on the same wound and expecting it to heal better. It just makes a burdensome pile of sloppy bandages that prevent you from getting to the wound that needs to be healed from the inside out.
The problem of school shootings needs to be healed from the inside out and there is no easy fix. No simple answer. The originating problem behind these horrific events is often festering hatred, insecurities, prejudice, need for revenge and sometimes delusions. Yes, it involves mental health.
But remember that as a society, we are working on de-stigmatizing mental health issues so that people will seek help without fear of labeling or retaliation or stigmatization. After years of working with families and individuals on issues such as depression, anxiety, anger, addictions and other mental health problems, the fact remains that a huge majority of those people do not shoot up schools or movie theaters or drive trucks through crowds of innocent people. The large percentage of people seeking help are normal everyday people [your friends, family, neighbors, co-workers] that are going through a struggle and will likely come out stronger after seeking mental health treatment.
While I agree that access to good, affordable mental health needs to be improved, and I also agree that reasonable regulations regarding ownership of assault weapons and background checks are helpful, there is the issue that remains that there are already regulations in place about these things. The very first thing that must be done is to clarify and enforce the regulations that are already in place. Enforce the reporting of violent threats and bandage up the system that is broken and doesn’t follow through with those things. That’s the very first thing that needs to be done. While the debate about gun control and arming guards at schools and creating better access to mental health services roars around us, we absolutely must shore up the systems that are already in place but are inefficient or broken.
The Florida school shooting most likely would not have happened if the reporting system and follow through had been working. If that had happened, at least the shooter might have gotten a chance to address the issues of hatred and revenge that compelled him to slaughter so many innocent children.
And then even deeper and more important than that, we must teach our kids (mostly by living this ourselves) that human life is valuable. They are valuable. And how you treat people matters. You matter.
Marianne Clyde, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, creator of Zentivity™ and Zentivity™ Leadership Forum is also the founder of the Marianne Clyde Center for Holistic Psychotherapy in Warrenton, VA and Be the Change Foundation, Inc. She can be reached through zentivity.guru and marianneclyde.com.
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