Archives for posts with tag: gun violence

Last night I attended my daughter’s choir concert. One of the songs they performed was 2014’s, Shut up and dance (with me). It’s a catchy song with multiple messages, both literal and figurative. I’ve been thinking about it since last night. It was part of my meditation during my walk today.

The message I have been meditating upon is, “Get out of your head and engage with me. Engage with my humanity.” Yeah, I know. That’s kind of a stretch. But hey, this is what mindfulness does for me when I examine my thoughts and thread them together with my experiences.  It has meaning and usefulness for me.

There has been a great deal of human engagement weighing heavily on my mind.  It is the engagement that results in stalemate, hatefulness, paralysis, and polarization. It is human engagement without the recognition of humanity. There is violence in my country that is specifically targeted toward underrepresented populations fueled by institutional racism, institutional sexism, xenophobia, and institutional homophobia. There is violence in my country due to suicide. There is violence in my country due to accidental shooting deaths by children who gain access to firearms.

It is also the presidential election season in the U.S.  People choose a candidate. Passions often run high. That is normal for a major election season. But this is not a normal election season. This is a season during which a reality t.v. star is a major presidential candidate and he is running on a platform so filled with hatred that even members of the party he is representing is having trouble coming together to support him. It is an incredibly stressful time for our country as well as the fact that the world is watching, helplessly, contemplating the possibility that an unqualified person who spews hate will be the head of one of the most powerful countries in the world.

I could tune all of this out. I could avoid reading any news. If I did, I would not be living a true life. I would be living in denial. I could also get myself very involved in all of this. Read the news constantly. Ruminate. Argue with people. The latter is what I have been doing and it is also not a true life, because the ball of anxiety, sadness, and anger I feel is making it harder to appreciate and engage in the positive aspects of my world. When I am out of balance either, too much or too little, I am prone to black and white thinking. That is not the world in which I actually live.

I try really hard to engage respectfully with people with whom I disagree about these subjects. It is difficult. I have only two or three friends on social media who engage in discussion and do so in a respectful fashion. I don’t get a lot disrespectful or judgmental comments. When people engage in that type of behavior, I either say something or ignore it, depending on what I judge to be the more effective response at the time. I do, however, find myself in discussions, which although civil, just don’t go anywhere. We just each repeat our position in slightly different words, even after it is clear that each of us has had the opportunity to consider the other viewpoint. When I am most mindful, I recognize this and say something along the lines of, “I’ve had an opportunity to consider your viewpoint. I still don’t agree. Peace.”

Today, I witnessed a rather remarkable exchange between a Facebook friend of mine and someone with whom she had grown up with but not seen for 45 years. One of the things I admire greatly about this friend is that she expresses her viewpoints in a respectful, compassionate, and well informed way. When she disagrees, she is kind but clear. She responded to what many of us would call an Islamiphobic statement with a gentle persistence. The person with whom she was interacting did not sound like he was going to change his position. However, by the end of 2-3 conversational turns, he wrote that she had given him things to think about and that he needed to obtain more information about the subject. They engaged in a way that identified the humanity in each other. It was one of the more heartening experiences I’ve had.

Last night, I was at a Pride Month concert. It was a performance of the LBTGQ/Allies youth choir in which my daughter sings. I used the restroom before the concert. There was a woman at the sinks who looked like she might be transgendered. I know that as a 50 year-old woman, this was likely not the first time I’d shared a bathroom with a transgender woman. However, it is the first time since an outspoken and passionate segment of my country decided that this was a major threat to restroom safety. I was struck by how little it struck me and how normal it felt. I liked her hair and I made a mindful decision to give her a compliment, which was met with appreciation. I wanted her to know that I engaged with her humanity and that I supported her right to be there. Engaging with someone from a standpoint of connection rather than difference can mean so much. Sometimes the mundane can be a peaceful and comforting experience.

Honestly, I need to unplug from political discussion for a bit. But that does not mean that I have to unplug for humanity. I can still engage and I can engage purposefully with people with whom my fearful or judgmental mind categorizes as “other”.  Maybe I can engage in a brief conversation with people who whom I have a knee-jerk reaction to judge even though I think it’s wrong, for example, people in a cranky mood, parents who bring small children to romantic restaurants,  parents who deck their kids out in military style garb, and men who wear t-shirts or hats with “Official Babe Inspector” written on them.  Maybe I can engage with folks with whom I know I have strong political and religious differences about other topics.

It is a platitude, but it is true that people put up walls. It is so true that we have a presidential candidate who is talking about it LITERALLY. The world can get so easily overwhelming. I find myself in fear and great worry myself. I understand why people want to shut it out. I understand why people want to arm themselves against danger. I also understand why people want to yell, hurt, and destroy. I understand why people want to give up. I understand these things because they are part of my own individual human experience.

Fear, anger, shame, selfishness, and sadness are shared parts of our human experience. But so are joy, curiosity, hope, compassion, and charity. Together, we are more than the sum of our parts.

 

 

My husband, John’s late Grandma Ann lived in Roseburg, Oregon, a small town in southern Oregon. Ann was a woman of habit, retired school teacher who got her hair set every week. It nearly always looked perfect. She ate meals everyday with her friend’s at the King’s Table, an all you can eat buffet. And when I say “every day”, I mean it. Every day, for decades, even when company came over.

Sometimes the company was John, then a child, along with his parents, visiting from California. Roseburg, then a logging town, was not surprisingly home to many lumberjacks. As you can imagine, being a lumberjack is heavy work and consequently, a lot of the lumberjacks were very large men. They not only ate a great deal but they also saw a great deal at King’s Table with their all you can eat buffet. According to John, the lumberjacks ate so much that the restaurant made a policy change. No more all you can eat. Each diner was limited to one plate.

How would the lumberjacks get enough to eat? One day, John saw a lumber jack amble toward the buffet. He picked up a plate, walked past the salads, walked past the vegetables, and straight to the mashed potatoes. Like Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, he piled his plate with a mountain of potatoes. Then he walked over to the meat section and stuck as many fried chicken legs into his potato peak as humanly possible. He’d done it. He’d packed 5 million calories of starchy, greasy, protein onto one plate.

Roseburg, a small town in a beautiful state, made the news on the first day of this month. A young man committed a mass shooting at the local community college, killing several people. The U.S. has seen an increase in mass shootings. Nonetheless, the majority of gun deaths are not due to mass shootings, they are the day to day shootings, intentional and unintentional, which occur in the U.S. at an alarming rate. The mass shootings capture our attention because they seem so random, are so severe, and tend to occur in small “safe” towns.

Understandably, people are upset. I am really upset. I am tired this issue, which is so divisive in my country. I am so tired of people not even being able to talk about it in a civil manner. I am tired of people presenting opinion and what they wish were true as actual truth. I am tired of people using emotional reasoning, greed, and religious fervor to argue against laws that would prevent death while still upholding the constitution.

Some people seem to think that unless they have the right to their own personal mountain of guns that they are being oppressed and made unsafe.

How many people have to die?

We’ve had enough.

Enough.

I have a Ph.D. in psychology. This is a science degree. I was a researcher for many years, following the scientific method to answer empirical questions. Before starting a study, there is also rigorous review of research involving human participants by ethics committees, which are comprised of both academic researchers and community members. I also have a number of peer reviewed research publications. The peer review process requires that other researchers in the field (and they shouldn’t be your buddies, by the way, that would be a conflict) review an article and not only weigh in on whether the article should be published but also make sometimes very extensive recommendations about changes to be made in the writing, the logic, the conclusions, or even the type and amount of statistical tests that are performed. And by the way, the authors’ names are taken off of the article by the journal editor and the authors are also not told the names of the reviewers.

It is not a perfect system. It is not totally devoid of bias. But it a systematic process, with built in checks and balances, carried out by in my experience, very smart and dedicated people. I find it extremely powerful that at the basis of statistical testing is the possibility that a hypothesis is wrong. Mathematically, each hypothesis is tested against the null hypothesis, which to make a long story short means, “Researcher, you are wrong. What you thought made a difference, made no difference.” So while an individual researcher might be arrogant, the basic assumption of statistical testing is still steeped in a kind of humility.  In sum, carrying out science involves the hard work of employing logic, making predictions, gathering evidence, and working as a scientific community to continually build a systematic understanding of the world.

I love doing science. I’m no  longer a researcher so I am not engaged in conducting it anymore. But I like to think of myself as an extremely logical person, a scientific person, a person who despite the fact that I am passionate with strong feeling and quick thoughts, tries to examine questions in the time it takes to do so, think about evidence to support my initial judgments, and make revisions as I go.

I am also a person with a strong faith in God. And again, I am not a traditionally religious person but I do have strong faith. God cannot be seen directly, anyway. God cannot really be measured. A belief in God is not scientific. The way I have thought about this is that there are some questions that are subject to faith and others that are subject to science. The existence of God is not a question, at least at this time, that is subject to scientific inquiry. But I have faith and experience God through the love people express for each other and nature’s majesty the latter of which includes Earth and the wide expanses of the universe.

Today, is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It was a truly tragic and horrible event during particularly turbulent and violent times in our country’s history. People die for no good reason all of the time. It is easy to get desensitized to it. But thinking about JFK, a charismatic, young, idealistic, and good looking president grounds us and reminds us of the horror of violence.

I think most people in the U.S. would agree that there is too much violence in our country. But after that agreement, things tend to fall apart. Today I was reminded of the National Rifle Association slogan, “Guns don’t kill people, people do.” I hate that slogan. And as you know, I hate very few things. But I hate it and it’s not just because I disagree, as do most Americans, with the extreme positions of the NRA.

I could go through the illogic of the slogan. It’s not an either or situation. People with guns kill people, both a person and a weapon are usually necessary. Yes, people still get beaten to death with someones bare hands and feet, but this is a minority when all violence related deaths are considered. A tool is usually used and guns are an extremely fast and effective way of killing someone.

There has been systematic research on guns in this country. I could give you all kinds of statistics about how having a gun in one’s home increases the risk of gun death. I could quote all kinds of evidence that our current gun control laws are insufficient in truly protecting people. I could also give you really obvious logic like do people really need assault weapons for duck hunting? Or do you really want to follow the logic of Ted Nugent? I mean have you listened to him? He makes no sense.

I could give you data. Because guns, their use, and their impact are observable. They are subject to scientific inquiry. And yes that inquiry can be subject to bias and given that NRA successfully lobbied to defund grant funding through the Centers for Disease Control (they have a section of injury prevention) on any studies that involve guns, we will unfortunately get less information about a problem that most all of us would agree exists. Too many people are getting killed by people with guns.

But I could not convince most of the people I’d like to convince with logic and data. Because many people have decided that this question is one of faith, not one of science. So there’s really no way to argue. And it doesn’t matter that there is supposed to be a separation of Church and state. A religious belief, by a powerful lobby, in highly unrestricted gun access and ownership is held to not be questioned and is incorporated into law.

As a general rule, I avoid discussing politics especially the politics that get intertwined with religious belief. It’s not so much that I disagree with everyone. I just find that whether I am discussing these issues with a person who agrees with me or not, there’s an incredible intolerance for people who express a different view point. And not only is there intolerance, there is name calling, “morons”, “un-American”, “not real Americans”, “Bible thumpers”, “idiots”.

And then I just come out of the conversation fighting harshly judgmental views. I try really hard not to be harshly judgmental because it is incompatible with love and respect. And I add “harshly” because we are supposed to be judgmental; we make hundreds perhaps thousands of judgments in a single day. But the best judgments are those that are fair, safe, and respectful to ourselves and to others.

You may agree with me. You may disagree with me. If you’ve gotten to this part of this post, I thank you for your kind attention. In any case, I have faith in God. I have faith in the power of  love. And I believe that violence is a problem in our society. And in my work, I help parents and children to use alternatives to aggression. In that sense, I work on the “people” part of the NRA slogan. Along with my husband, I work to teach Zoe how to live as a loving, peaceful, fair, and respectful person. I continue to try to live in this way myself. I am not always successful. Nobody is, there is conflict in life. But I hold peace as an ideal to which I continually strive. To me, that is my personal practical brand of pacifism.

People, let’s get to work.

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George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (cnms.berkeley.edu).

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