How to make our society safer — and better
In the aftermath of this latest mass shooting, I shared a Slate piece, “How to Stop Violence“ on Facebook and it sparked a conversation. Subtitled “Mentally ill people aren’t killers. Angry people are,” it contends – and I wholeheartedly agree – that violent crimes like shootings aren’t carried out for the most part by the mentally ill, but “by people who lack the skills to modulate anger, express it constructively, and move beyond it.”
In its background paper, “Risk Factors for Violence in Severely Mentally Ill, Treatment Advocacy Center notes the lack of correlation between the two. And as Slate pointed out, “The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, the reference book used by mental health professionals to assign diagnoses of mental illness, does very little to address anger.”
People with mental illness aren’t shooting up schools and nightclubs and community centers and concerts. Men who are angry are.
I’ve long thought we have an issue with people who don’t know how to deal with things not going their way. Anger is a biggie. -Isms like alcoholism, workaholism, shopaholism, are others. Still others turn to drugs, overeating, bullying, extreme sports, excessive exercising or addictions like smoking. Blaming others is always a favorite fallback too. Any behavior can become an outlet…instead of just dealing with what life throws at you. Some behaviors hurt others more, all hurt ourselves.
Because when you funnel your energy into these other activities and behaviors, you still haven’t dealt with the problem or stressor.
Combine this inability to handle stress with insecurity and then with guns and our society cannot suffer the number of angry men out there any longer.
Parents are no more equipped to teach kids coping skills than teachers are. But they need to be taught. And to be learned by all.
As I wrote in an earlier blog, people who call for a mental health conversation any time anyone brings up gun control are not seeking answers. I walked through the issues as I saw them, not finding concrete steps that can be taken to reduce gun violence. For authorities or mental health professionals to do anything, there has to be imminent danger of the person harming himself or others. In the absence of that, there is really little that can be done. The following week, I blogged about the multi-pronged approach that could be taken to address the accessibility of guns (and challenged those fixated on mental health to provide me reasons not to address them). It wasn’t even exhaustive. This week I read about a smart suggestion for issuing temporary gun restraining orders which ought to be added to the list.
But getting back to why people do the things they do, the following sign, appearing in a kindergarten, provides the basis of what we do need. Children who lack coping mechanisms when they are young grow up into adults who lack the same. And with the exception of children who may need medication or other professional support in order to be able to exhibit that level of self-control, I think these basic instructions are what we all need.
Perhaps school social workers, community centers, places of worship could teach children and adults how to deal with not getting what you want, how to manage anger and disappointment and fear and hurt. While Montessori schools do teach resilience, as a friend pointed out, they are in the minority. I honestly cannot think of many people I know who have these skills. And that is because they never got them – not at school, not in the home, nor anywhere else…
The Slate piece made me wonder if sociologists were to study cultural differences, would they find that Americans are missing something other cultures have; how do different countries pass on these life skills? Another friend found evidence that this is so in a study looking at how people handle workplace stresses, Cultural variations in work stress and coping in an era of globalization.
If I read it correctly, it found that cultures which are more community-based provide support to individuals who can (then) look inside to find ways to affect change and cope. People in societies, like ours, which place individuals above community, tend to look outward for fixes and want the organizations outside of them to change. If that is what is being said, it makes 100% sense to me. One of my early blogs was about how we lack a sense of community in America today. In “evolving” to a model where each man is concerned with his own happiness, we’ve lost the concern that we should have for others.
How do we define happiness? And what do we do when we are not happy? Take it out on others? Hurt ourselves? A bit of both, I am afraid, and in many different ways.
But if we were to instead resort to, say, the suggestions above for when we are mad, sad or scared, we could grow stronger – without getting angry or turning to -isms or any other behaviors that are harmful to others or to ourselves. When we know we have a community that supports us, when we don’t think our anger supersedes all others’ rights, we do not want to hurt them. People who feel capable of dealing with what life throws at them do not resort to violence. They do not buy guns and shoot people.