BACKGROUND: Impassioned teenage survivors of the February 14th high school mass murder in Florida stormed the airwaves with their anger and broken hearts to challenge politicians to pass gun legislation. Today the President banned bump stocks by executive order and is calling for increased background checks.
PROBLEM: It has appeared that no matter how many mass shootings have occurred in the USA, gun legislation has been impossible to pass. After each mass murder gun rights activists, threatened by an outcry to ban semi-automatic weapons cling to their ideology and attack the other side. And after each mass murder the other side demands gun regulation. Both sides get ramped up, dig in their heels and attack each other.
SOLUTION: Here is what happens in the stress response of the ANS (autonomic nervous system) when a group forms and then gets riled up. First, people join together based on some common interest and are a friendly and engaging social support for each other. Once they feel attacked or misunderstood an alarm goes off, they feel threatened, get angry and will move en-mass into a more primitive mob mentality that is ready to fight (think townsfolk with pitchforks seeking Frankenstein) for their beliefs. In the past week, as in every mass shooting recently, proponents on opposite sides of the gun issue post views that belittle, demean and stereotype the other side. The columnist David Brooks writes in an Op-Ed in the NY Times (2.19.18) that he recently observed a “Better Angels” outreach group. Their mission is to bring people from opposite political “tribes” and sit them down in a room together for an open dialogue. Self-disclosure of fears, hurts, and passions ensue. Communication creates connections as people are seen as individuals. Understanding deepens and personal bonds are made. Stress goes down, the feeling of alarm diminishes and the mob dissipates. Feeling seen and respected helps each side lower it’s weapons, look with some kindness into the eyes of their enemy, see their humanity and soften back into the ability to face hard issues with a more flexible mind and more empathic heart.
PERSONAL NOTE: In the first year (2017-2018) with this president, I have felt like a child in a family that has been forced to endure the puffed up, controlling, fragile, easily shamed, quick to blame, emotionally reactive new stepfather with his lack of empathy for humans who do not live to praise him. But today he did something right. I watched his speech and dared look into his eyes with a sliver of hope. Many will second guess his motives but before we go back to our tribe mentality, I like to think he was, as we all were, horrified by the death of innocent children last week in Florida and his need to be helpful made him use his power in a useful way.
QUOTE: “How would your life be different if…you stopped making negative judgmental assumptions about people you encounter? Let today be the day…”