I don’t normally intend for my writing to cover controversial or current-event topics. There are plenty of people who cover those topics, ranging from infinite ends of many spectrums.
I also feel that the more we focus on these topics, stay on high alert from all the fear and the devastation we feel in our hearts from their effects, and give attention to those who act out these events, the more they seem to keep happening.
But I really do feel that in regards to these matters, it’s time to add my voice to the discussion as well.
With regard to mass violence specifically in the U.S., here is what I observe.
First of all, I really believe this issue is a multi-faceted one. There are different pieces of the puzzle that need to fit together to put this puzzle together completely. And each piece matters.
However, right now, we generally have a situation where one puzzle piece is blaming another one. If you think about this in terms of puzzle-solving, do you see the absurdity of this kind of puzzle-piece blaming? The puzzle is still not anywhere close to being put together, and these acts continue to happen.
Some say it’s not the guns, it’s the humans. Others say it’s just the guns. Some say it’s both. Some say it’s the laws or the lack of laws. Some say it’s the kinds of guns or the types of ammunition. Some say it’s because mental illness is not sufficiently addressed.
Some say we should live even more in fear and hire armed guards. (To exist everywhere? At the entrance and exit of every public space and building and scattered frequently throughout?)
Some say we should all be armed. (Because we can all be counted on to act sanely with guns in everyone’s hands in a panic situation?)
Here’s what I say.
I say that all pieces of the puzzle need to understand how to work together.
And I also say that there some really important and seemingly missing pieces that not nearly enough people seem to be talking about.
May we need stricter gun laws? Certainly. May we need less allowance for certain types of guns or ammunition for civilians? Likely.
May we need to better understand how some people come to exhibit horrific behavior? Of course.
But here’s the thing. Because of my own deep interest in human behavior, there are a few other pieces of the puzzle that I’ve come to see here.
And I consider these pieces just as vitally important as many of the mainstream ones being discussed right now.
First puzzle piece: Look at the patterns.
The patterns of the people who often (not always but often) commit these crimes are strikingly similar. They are often young or younger men. Some of them (not all) have grown up around dysfunction. They often seem to feel disconnected from others and from society. They feel lonely. They feel purposeless. They have sometimes had failures in their lives which they have not known how to deal with healthily.
Do any of these characteristics excuse, justify, or condone any of the acts they do? Of course not. However, I am looking at this issue with different eyes. There is a deeper layer here than simply making the actions of these men “wrong.” We can all agree that their actions are not healthy. However, there is a deeper layer.
Like all of us, these young men want to know that they matter in society. But unlike many of us, they have come to believe that they don’t.
It’s so easy to hurl so many hurtful things at these people for what they have done. It’s so easy to become consumed by our grief. It’s so easy to then harden our hearts, fill our voices with hurt, judgment, and rage, and say stuff like, “Why are you so crazy? There are so many other ways to matter. How could you ever commit such an act? Don’t you care about all those people you’ve affected?”
But here’s the thing: We don’t ever truly know what it’s like to have lived in these young mens’ shoes. We don’t know what coping mechanisms they learned or didn’t learn. We don’t know what emotional language they had or didn’t have.
We don’t know when they likely came to feel that their lives didn’t matter and that they only way they thought they could get the attention of others was to commit a horrific crime. We don’t know how often they felt abandoned, betrayed, hurt, or shut down.
It’s easy to stay stuck in our own hurt, anger, and judgment of them. But when will we start to go even deeper beneath those hard feelings and really understand that these men had feelings too? Yes, they took away precious lives. Yes, of course that is devastating. And in no way should we minimize our own collective or personal grief here. However, these young men lost their lives long before they ever decided to put their hands on a gun and use it to take the lives of others and themselves.
How did they lose their lives long before?
Second puzzle piece: Admit to our society’s totally messed-up messages. Call them out, and stop thinking that they don’t matter.
I could write enough books to consume the rest of my lifetime on the different crazy messages in our society and how I feel they contribute to personal and collective dysfunction. But for the sake of at least some brevity, I’ll just list here what I believe to be a few of the main dysfunctional messages very relevant to this particular situation of mass violence.
Message Number 1: Don’t feel your feelings. Especially if you are a man.
Nope. Men aren’t allowed to feel. That’s too “girly.” Or worse, that’s “gay,” as if being gay is a problem, or something that men should make fun of with other men.
“Don’t be so emotional. Don’t cry. Brush it off. Stuff it down.” In fact, don’t even try to learn healthy emotional language or management skills at all.
And if you’re sensitive or quiet or have different interests that don’t involve anything that we tell you is “manly,” just don’t even think about showing those traits or interests to us. We only allow you to wear blue as boys and play rough-and-tumble and act in certain ways. If you act in any other way, or heaven forbid, if you should happen to see any of our own dysfunction and call it out, don’t even try. We don’t talk about those things here.
If these things haven’t been said directly from various mediums to young boys as they grow up, they may be modeled.
Or just as tragic, there are times when nothing is modeled. Because some young boys have no healthy role models to look up to in their lives. Their fathers or others with healthy masculine energy may be absent from their lives, physically, emotionally, or both.
I’m not blaming parents or anyone in particular here. I was raised in large part by a single mother, and I have so much respect for those who become parents. I also know that all of us are aiming to do the best we can in life.
I’m just pointing out some of our collective society’s ideals and possibilities. We all have likely participated in them in some way. And mainstream society doesn’t exactly portray many men as having a healthy balance of productive masculine or feminine energy.
I so believe that we all have both kinds of energy, no matter what our sexual or gender orientation is. All of us can “be strong,” and all of us can “nurture,” although these energies can go way beyond those simple definitions. And when we deny a part of any of these energies, judging it and pushing it down because society tells us it’s not acceptable, it can come back to hurt us or others in ways we may not even be aware of.
Message Number 2: Women, before you think we’re off the hook, we’re not. And yes, I include myself in this picture.
How often do we emasculate our men? How often do we put them down or make fun of them when we’re with our girlfriends, or even worse, right in front of them? How often do we try to make them feel that we are the superior ones?
How often do we gossip about them with our girlfriends because it makes us feel superior, liked, and accepted within our group of girls? How often do we refuse our man’s help because we think only we know how to do things the “right” way?
How often do we take our relationship issues out into more public arenas, such as social media, where others can see that we are obviously hurting or that there is discord in a relationship? How much do we realize that our relationship issues are generally most healthily dealt with privately or with an objective, confidential third party and not broadcast for all the world to see? And if we can’t solve our relationship issues, how often do we use that as an excuse to gossip privately or publicly about our men?
And how often do we gossip about and feel inferior/superior to each other, and just accept this as normal "girl talk?"
I say this not to give us women any more reasons to judge ourselves harshly. We all know we have plenty of those reasons, many that we ourselves have picked up from the millions of years of taboo or not-so-taboo “rules” in our human existence.
I say this because I don’t believe these behaviors are healthy, not just for us or for the men in our relationships, but for society as a whole. Furthermore, I believe that they stem directly from our own feelings of scarcity, inferiority masking as superiority, and insecurity.
And women, we’re better than that.
We are so, so much better than that.
Let’s pledge to stop emasculating our men. Let’s pledge instead to love ourselves so that we can love our men even more deeply.
Let’s pledge to stop all forms of gossip, period. Because it’s not “just joking,” and it’s just plain hurtful. And let’s pledge to encourage our men that they can trust us with their feelings—because they actually do have them. Let’s do even more—let’s show them that they can trust us.
Let’s actually listen to them if they should feel extraordinarily brave to open up to us. Let’s not be defensive if they point out something in our relationship that is bothering them. Let’s hear them out. And let’s vow to work on that together with them.
Also, let’s not broadcast their feelings, or poke fun of our relationship woes, or say any other things that make us feel superior among our girlfriends if we put our men down. Let’s pledge instead to build each other up and to encourage our own growth, as women and men.
Message Number 3: Men--you need to be a provider and have a purpose from the time you come out of the womb, but our society won’t give you one.
Nope. Instead, we’ll take a lot of our best jobs overseas. At the same time, we’ll tell you to spend six figures on a college degree because we say you need one to survive in this society. Except maybe there’s one problem. At the ripe young age of **college,** you may not be so sure you want to spend six figures on trying to decide on one possible career path for the next 30 years. What if you want to explore? What if you want to try other things besides just one? Too bad. You have to pick one thing and stick to it. Suck it up. Get a job. The real world sucks, man. Get used to it.
And it’s only going to get worse. You’re going to get out of college and get stuck at a job you hate for the rest of your life. Well, that’s if you’re lucky to even get a job. Maybe you’ll just be poor or unemployed forever. Your amazing gifts and talents (whatever they are—maybe you don’t even know) are buried deep within you, but they don’t matter here.
And if you want to be an innovator or entrepreneur, we won’t help you much with the resources to get started. Sure, you can Google and read your way to a new profession sometimes. But you’re still pretty much on your own, man. It’s not manly to ask others for help. You have to figure it out yourself.
Time to “man up,” dude. What, do you think the world revolves around you or something?
And about staying connected? Sure, we’ve got you covered there. But not for real face-to-face connection. So you may be connected to the whole world, but you’ll still feel lonely if you feel like you don’t fit in with the locals, and maybe even if you do. And if you should find a relationship? Ball and chain, man. You’re gonna be trapped in that too. Don’t ever think you’ll enjoy it!
But remember. Don’t talk about your feelings, even if all these messages make you feel helpless, powerless, angry, or despairing. Stuff them down. That’s too girly. Stop being so emotional.
Message Number 4: We glorify violence, drama, and fear in our society. It’s such an easy sell, because it brings up some of our primal fears and reptilian instincts. It’s click-bait, and it keeps everyone’s attention constantly on the media.
See how much people pay attention to violence in our society? The media seems to say that it’s a quick way to “get known.” Everyone pays attention to those who make the news in a big way. Especially in a way that ignites more fear, anguish, and grief within people. We’re constantly promoting that stuff, because our primal fight-or-flight feelings are so great at holding our attention.
We promote violence when we keep bombing other countries and calling it “defense.”
We promote it when we get so entrenched in our own personal beliefs that we feel that anyone else’s beliefs are an “attack” against ours, which we then have to be on the “defense” about.
We promote it when we bully others, troll online, or say nasty or hurtful things to or about those around us or others in the world.
And we promote violence when we bully and say nasty or hurtful things to or about ourselves.
We promote violence when we act out so many "isms" and other attitudes that try to make us think that we're separate from or better than any of our fellow human beings--racism, sexism, etc., etc., etc.
We promote it when we view violent, horrific movies, shows, and films or play violent games “for fun,” as if there is ANYTHING at all fun about even pretending to take the life of another human being, or witnessing it, for that matter.
We tell ourselves it’s not real, so it doesn’t matter. But then we become numb to its effects on our minds, and we start to think it’s not as horrific or “such a big deal” as it actually is.
And we promote violence and drama every time we click on a news headline that portrays it or watch a news or "entertainment" program that is filled with it.
So violence and drama sell. That’s where the attention goes. And we continue to live in more and more fear, feeling constantly on the defense, hyper-vigilant, like we’re prepared for attack at any time.
We don’t promote real peace here. If we did, we would refuse to go to violence first, even if it sells. But we don’t. We go there anyway, because we don’t focus on dealing healthily with our emotions. Remember? Men, and sometimes women, don’t feel.
Yep. These are the messages we collectively send our young men, and sometimes our young women too. And then we wonder why some of them feel purposeless, confused, anxious, and lonely.
And we wonder why, after years and years and sometimes passed-on generations of these messages and experiences, some of them unleash all that pent-up rage in horrific ways.
No, it’s not an excuse or justification. No, it’s not meant to cast blame or judgment on any particular person or experience. No, it’s not okay. And thank goodness so many of us who hear these messages or have these experiences do not make tragic choices. It’s just that those who do are the ones who seem to get the most attention.
I don’t know about you, but along with so many other pieces of this puzzle, it’s pretty obvious to me why this keeps happening.
Third puzzle piece: Change our personal and collective ways.
Each of us has the opportunity to check our own behaviors—each and every minute of every day. Not in a way that makes us paranoid. But in a way where we can exhibit great self-love, self-care, and self-compassion, so we can really gently and lovingly guide ourselves to change. (Yeah, I know. Those things, along with real and healthy emotional understanding and management, aren’t propagated nearly enough in our current mainstream society either. Thank goodness for those parents, teachers, and others who are sharing these messages. The tide is turning, but so very, very slowly.)
The thing is, the more we exhibit love, compassion, understanding, and care for ourselves, the greater the amount of empathy we can have for everyone else around us. And the greater we can feel empowered to question society’s and maybe even our own family’s taboos and dictates and decide that this is not the way we want to live anymore.
Raising boys who become men who don’t feel, and modeling “not feeling” as adult men—or women—is not the way we want to live anymore.
Raising girls who become women who emasculate and gossip about their men or other women, and modeling gossiping and emasculating because of our own insecurities, is not the way we want to live anymore.
Glorifying and accepting violence, no matter if “it sells," is not the way we want to live anymore.
Creating a society where people feel stuck in choosing one career forever that they will supposedly undoubtedly hate and spend the rest of their lives in misery and carry huge amounts of financial debt is not the way we want to live anymore.
And creating a society where people may not even feel that they can find a job that will allow them to develop and use their real gifts, where people are indirectly shown to stuff those gifts down, turning such potential into energy which can horrifically destroy instead of beautifully and constructively create, is definitely not the way we want to live anymore.
The more we act out these behaviors in our society—especially around children, but even overall in general—the more we enforce them.
It’s our choice to change. It takes all of us to do our part.
Are you in?
What one small part of this puzzle will you commit to owning and changing for yourself and society today?
It’s up to all of us to decide.
And it’s up to all of us to catch ourselves in the acts of these behaviors, offer kindness, non-judgment, and acceptance to and of ourselves, little by little, act by act, day by day, and commit to admitting to ourselves the truth of the amazing, miraculous, loving beings that we really are.
We are all worthy of love. And we are all worthy of real connection and real purpose in our society.
It’s heartbreaking to think that some believe they’re not.
If we each commit to loving ourselves and gently letting go of ways that no longer serve us or our society, we will model for all those around us, especially our young men, the kind of healthy society that we’d all like to live in.
And to me, that’s a pretty important few missing pieces of this whole puzzle.
-----To all the young men and young women out there, and to all of us at any numerical age, I want you to hear me, and I want you to listen closely.
Your gifts, your talents, and what you have to offer in this world, even if you’re not at all sure right now of what those things encompass—it all matters.
We, as a society, are sorry we have failed you. We know it’s up to you to take responsibility for your own choices. However, we also know that we as a society still play a large part in your well-being or lack thereof. We know this because we are all connected, no matter how individual we are.
We are sorry for the times we’ve taught you to stuff your feelings, to be the punchline of someone’s insensitive joke or gossip, to glorify and pay attention to fear and violence, and to feel disconnected, purposeless, or that you will be trapped forever in a life you might dread.
We value YOU. We haven’t shown it in the best ways at times, we know. But the truth is, when all is said and done, we value you. WE VALUE YOU as an individual, miraculous being, and we want to know all the good you have to offer. We know there’s love in there. We know even if we haven’t shown you good examples of it.
The truth is that sometimes we don’t always believe there’s love in us. But there is. There’s love in us, and love in you. There’s so much love in there. We have faith in you. And we want you to share your love with us.
If you’ve never heard these words before, please accept our heart-wrenching apology. And please believe the truth of them now. There is a place for you in this world. And who you are deep inside is true, pure love.
Please, please don’t give up. We want you here. We want your contribution for the good of this world, in whatever loving ways you can find within yourself to offer it. Because no matter how hopeless, despairing, abandoned, betrayed, or alone you may feel, we PROMISE you that underneath all of that, if you will simply allow yourself to believe it, is an overflowing of love so deep and ready to pour out with such force into your heart and into the rest of the world.
(By the way, I don’t say this last sentence lightly. I know some of my own personal depths of purposelessness and feelings of abandonment. And I also know there is hope.)
We’re sorry that we haven’t been good models for you, but we vow to change. We vow to value you and to value what you have to offer. We vow to value your feelings and stop saturating you with despairing messages about life.
We vow to change.
And we hope that you can have patience with us, but most of all, not give up on yourself and all the real goodness that you have to offer. Even if you’re not sure of what that is, please, please don’t give up.
We vow to support you. And we vow to love you. Even if you struggle right now to find those of us around you who support you, please know that there are so many of us who do. We are waiting to get to know you and all the love and value you have to offer.
Please know that you are truly, truly loved and valued.
Please know that you matter.
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No matter what, always remember this: You are deserving, you are worthy, and you are good enough. Keep being you, keep shining, and keep growing!
With great love,