Culture and Violence

April 20, 2021

The National Council for Home Safety and Security had designated Parkland, Florida, the safest city in the state [of Florida] in 2017. It was also named the 15th safest city in America for 2017. Tragically, on February 14, 2018, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, [Florida,] experienced the worst school shooting since the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012. Why?

This is a question I have been asked countless times in the past 10 days. Why? Why do these school shootings continue to happen, over and over again? Although there is never a single variable that can explain complex human behavior, I believe there is an overarching factor we should all consider: culture – our beliefs, behavioral rules, traditions, and rituals.

Parkland was the 18th school shooting of 2018. Regardless of how far back you look – Columbine, Red Lake, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, and now Parkland – all of these shootings have one thing in common: the shooter(s) were all disconnected from our culture. They were social outcasts. They had no means to fulfill their primary human drives: to connect (to others) and to belong (to something larger than themselves). As such, they likely felt disconnected, marginalized and disenfranchised from our culture writ large, or our society. Feeling disconnected, marginalized, and disenfranchised from society lends itself to the exhibition of secondary human drives: hostility, destructiveness, and violence

If you read about the history of school shooters, none of them woke up one day and decided, “Today is the day I’m going to shoot up a school.” These events were all planned and premeditated. It is during these periods of planning and premeditation that we, as a society and as a culture, have an opportunity to intervene.

Social media is a tool that allows people to connect and feel belonging to something larger than themselves; what I discuss as “having a cause.” You need look no further than the #metoo movement or the #timesup movement for evidence of the power that social media has to connect a group of people, and unify them around a cause. Social media is a platform that has the capacity to create rapid change in our culture and society. At the same time, it also allows these culturally disconnected students to feel further isolated from their peers (particularly if they are bullied) – and to, instead, find a connection and sense of belonging with equally isolated, marginalized, and disenfranchised peers. These peers are equally angry, and they find support from others who may want to act against the society/culture that marginalizes or disenfranchises them.

If we want to stop events like brutal school shootings in the future, I believe we must act as a unified society, to build a culture with institutions that recognize primary human drives (to connect and belong) as empathetic and social drives. We must understand that when we deprive people of their primary human drives, we get secondary human drives: hostility, destructiveness, and violence.

Building institutions that value empathetic and social connection means that beginning in grade school, we must teach and reinforce behaviors that are empathetic. s adults and students, we must move toward (and not away from) students and other adults who may not look like us, act like us, think like us, or even speak like us. It means we must embrace (not just tolerate), with an open and empathetic mind, others who might be in a distressed emotional state. It means building a society and a culture that communicates that “we are all in this together.” Sure, we will all struggle from time to time, but there is no need for anyone to struggle alone. We are all one human tribe. The struggle inside one of us is the struggle inside all of us.

Let’s cultivate our culture – together!

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