To prevent future violence, we must learn what is inside us | Whale tales


Fresh pools of blood, tears and fury.

If the past is prologue to the future, we are already on the way to forgetting the last spasms of violence that have shaken and degraded our nation.

Uvalde, Texas Buffalo, New York.

There will be more.

Clearly we have to do something. But what? We can make external changes to the law by creating reasonable gun regulations that the late Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the Heller decision. But this would only be a thin bandage on the surface of an enormous human problem.

The deeper issue is this: How and why does our society continue to breed misfits who commit these abominable acts? Are people totally free from any moorings?

The killers were all young once. How can we prevent our children from becoming them?

As I remember, at one time our institutes taught a subject called ethics, basic and correct, which answered the question of how one should behave as a member of society.

The ancients used to talk about something they called the moral law. That is, the now controversial idea that some principles and values ​​apply universally to all cultures. And that these values ​​are in us as members of the human race.

“Two things fill me with wonder,” said the 18th-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant. “The starry heavens above and the moral law within.”

To modern minds, a quaint notion.

As part of his argument in The Abolition of Man, Oxford Don and Christian writer CS Lewis traces the moral law through various cultures. It turns out that some form of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is common to all societies. Thus, among others, loyalty to the family, bravery and the need for cooperation.

OK, this is bookish.

But here’s my twist. I think it’s time we pay more attention to the deep meaning of this ancient Greek phrase: “Know thyself.” It would teach us our flash points, familiarize us with how we handle frustration, disappointment, anger.

When I look around, I see too many people growing up as inadequate containers for their own anger, and as a result, they are capable of either extreme.

Take two guys heading down Interstate 5. One cuts the other off and the game is on. All sense goes out the window. Both are fury, devoid of any rational judgment. And in the resulting car wreck, people can die. It happens every day.

But what if one of the drivers took a moment to wonder, “Wait a minute, what am I doing here?” and then pull off the road?

What if a woman who raised her hand to her child found within herself that brief moment of clarity to ask the same question?

Perhaps we cannot instill in young people this habit of self-reflection in the heat of the moment. And of course many won’t care. But even if a few learn how to apply it and care enough to apply it, that split second of thought could save lives.

We must cultivate the ability to see ourselves from the outside for a moment.

“All men have to go downwind now and then,” said comedian Jeff Allen.

This is difficult, but each fresh day offers us possibilities to apply it.

Scapegoating is another serious problem. I see this problem playing a key role in many mass shootings, and I think we pay too little attention to it.

Guy fired from a job, blames everyone but himself, goes back and blows people up.

When Germany lost World War I, he blamed the Jews, shouting, “They stabbed us in the back!” What were the attacks of September 11, 2001 but a scapegoat? They were the planners and hijackers blaming the West for all the ills of their own failed societies.

Finally, I believe that “knowing thyself” means becoming aware of the consequences of making sweeping generalizations about entire classes of people that in no way take into account the complexity and variety of human lives and beliefs. It is much easier to hurt others, as the philosopher Martin Buber once wrote, if we make them an “it” instead of a “you.”

I see all of these shortcomings as operative in the attenuation or eradication of the basic norms that once helped bind us together.

Yes, you could call me naïve and a bit of a Pollyanna for even expecting that education in these matters would do much good.

But at the same time, I still believe that there are enough good people out there that recognizing and fighting against the dark tendencies themselves could make a difference, especially if we learn to do so in our younger years.

Robert Whale can be reached at rwhale@soundpublishing.com.



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Jennifer Ahdout

Jennifer Ahdout

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