Let's start now with these six important factors.
The undeniable truth behind most of these horrific mass murders is that they are committed by men. Not all men are mass murderers, or even violent, but we need to engage in a national conversation about masculinity in our culture. If it were as easy as "testosterone", all males would behave in the same way, and they DON'T. But, all males are given similar messages about what it means to "be a man" in America. We all have a responsibility to change this dynamic and challenge toxic masculinity wherever we see it. "Man up" and "Grow a pair" should be excised from our social vernacular.
An independent and objective press is essential to maintaining a thriving democracy. However, since the advent of the "24-hour cable news cycle", the press often becomes part of the problem. We have blurred journalism with celebrity, and often "reporters" on television are looking for their YouTube moment and lose track of their Journalism 101 training. "Commentary" and news delivered by surrogates of a particular ideology have blinded us to the truth. The fact that we acknowledge a national news source leans right or left is stunning. A real news organization has no bias or political leanings. We depend on the press to help us find the truth.
Most of us agree, that while Americans have a right to "bear arms", that right should not be a guarantee if one's behavior suggests a likelihood for criminality or violence. For example, convicted felons are not entitled to carry weapons, even though not all felonies are carried out WITH weapons. So, clearly Congress needs to revisit our gun laws and make amends where necessary to limit the possibility of dangerous people acquiring dangerous weapons.
Just as not all gun owners are murderers, not all people of religious faith are intolerant. However, huge swaths of intolerant people cling to a religious dogma that often results in undue prejudice and discrimination. Religious leaders of all faiths have a responsibility to at least begin to ask the question: "Why is there such violence, hatred and intolerance propagated in the name of our faiths"? The faithful, by the nature of their religious convictions which are often built upon the tenet of LOVE, need to engage in conversations about the unintended consequences of religious devotion in the 21st century.
Math and science are likely not going to solve our social problems. Children and students need far more tools and strategies for developing appropriate communication skills, empathy, an appreciation for difference, and emotional intelligence. Trying to undo a 20 or 30-something's hardened heart is much more difficult than creating a loving heart from the very beginning. The social sciences should be given as much priority and resources in our K-12 schools and beyond as is the current STEM craze.
6. MENTAL HEALTH
While it is true that not all mentally ill people commit acts of violence, it takes a mentally ill person to walk into a nightclub and murder 49 people in cold blood, or 26 children and teachers in an elementary school, or 9 worshipers in a church, or 12 moviegoers in a cinema. We have made great strides in this area, but as a society we still need to fight harder for mental health parity. Mental health "check ups" should become as routine as medical physicals, and we should make every effort possible at reducing the ongoing stigma around mental illness. Seeing a "therapist" should be no different than seeing a cardiologist, neurologist, or ophthalmologist.
There is no easy solution to the horror consuming our culture because there is no easy, or singular, cause. It is likely a conflagration of multiple social factors that impact all of us. Each of us has a moral responsibility to do what we can where we can because if it wasn't you or me this time, it might be our place of worship, mall, theater, school, place of employment, neighborhood, club, organization, or community next time. Why wait until then?
Be kind to yourself and to each other.
© Copyright 2016 Douglas Layer, M.A., LPCC