Suicidal Nation

LOS ANGELES – SEP 11: Anthony Bourdain at the 2016 Primetime Creative Emmy Awards – Day 2 – Arrivals at the Microsoft Theater on September 11, 2016 in Los Angeles, CA

I recently read an article in USA Today by Kristen Powers in which she cited a statistic that suicides are up 30% since 1999. In the article, she quotes an author who says that “despair … isn’t always caused by our brains. It’s largely caused by key problems in the way we live.” I don’t know if there’s any research or professional opinion to back that up. The author is a journalist who wrote a book. That doesn’t necessarily make the author an expert. Still, I personally think there is some merit to the point.

Kristen Powers went on to assert her opinion that “we are too busy trying to ‘make it’ without realizing that once we reach that goal, it won’t be enough.” For proof, she quotes Tim Carey about “getting to the place where you have everything everybody has ever desired and realizing you are still unhappy. And that you can still be unhappy is a shock when you have accomplished everything you ever dreamed of and more.”

In spite of the lack of real evidence, I think she has a point. The article is prompted by the suicides of two famous TV personalities who seemed to have it all, Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade. We don’t have to think very far back to remember Robin Williams, who also seemed to have it all. Then there is Whitney Houston who maybe didn’t intentionally kill herself, but she drank and drugged herself to death.

It turns out that the list of famous people who committed suicide is quite long. (See, for example, the Famous Suicides List) The list of famous suicides includes some of the wealthiest people of their times. (See, for example, 10 Millionaire Businessmen Who Committed Suicide and These are 10 Rich People who Committed Suicide)

What is it that possess a person who seems to have everything anyone could want in this life to commit suicide?

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School Shootings: Seeking the Why

Depositphotos ID: 87889252 Copyright: creatista (editorial use only)

Another school shooting has occurred, this time in Maryland at the Great Mills High School. (See the CNN report: Armed student dead after he shoots 2 others at Maryland high school, sheriff says). Some people will herald this incident as a vindication of gun rights because the shooter was taken down by an armed resource officer in the school. I will leave that debate to others. I want to focus on why school shootings are happening in the first place.

Yes, we can say school shootings are happening because of guns, but guns are not the whole story. Guns are not the root cause. Guns have been ubiquitously part of the fabric of American life going back to the Revolutionary War and before. Guns were accessible in our country throughout the 1800’s and 1900’s, but there was never an indiscriminate, mass school shooting until 1966 when an engineering student holed up in a tower in Austin, TX and began shooting at passersby on the campus below.

Within months a copycat shooting took place in Mesa, AZ by another individual who spoke about inspiration from the Austin shooter and a serial killer. (See A Brief History of Indiscriminate School Shootings in the US) Copycat inspiration is a likely source of motivation for indiscriminate, mass school shootings, but copycat inspiration doesn’t explain why. Why would anyone be inspired to emulate such an example as a school shooting?

Regardless of whatever we decide as a society to do about guns, we need to ask why!

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Walk Out or Stand Up?

Depositphotos photography ID: 115252164 Copyright: icrogen

The news headlines were all about the national walk out yesterday. Students in schools cross the nation walked out of school in protest of the latest mass school shooting, urging politicians and other responsible adults to do something about the epidemic of school shootings. Judging by my Facebook feed, most adults supported and even applauded them in expressing their concern to the adults in their world.

It is our responsibility to protect our children. We need to take this seriously and do all that we can to protect them from this very modern danger. It is a modern danger by the way. Never before 1966 was there an indiscriminate mass shooting of students on a school campus in the history of the United States, and indiscriminate mass school shootings have ramped up each decade since then, shooting into the double digits in the 1980’s and beyond. (See A Brief History of Indiscriminate School Shootings in the US.)

As if this trend isn’t disturbing enough, we can see another trend in the age of the perpetrators. From the 1980’s on, the perpetrators have been predominantly teenagers and young twenty somethings. The perpetrators have been as young as middle school age, and they are almost all boys and young men. What is going on with our boys and young men is a question we need to ask and answer. (See The Lost Boys with Guns.)

Meanwhile, I add my voice to the chorus of adults applauding our youth around the country for walking out in a show of unified protest and demand for the adults to make changes that will protect them from future attacks from indiscriminate mass shootings, but it isn’t enough.

Granted, protests are a last resort for people who don’t have the power, or, perhaps, feel they don’t have the power, to effect change directly. It’s an attempt to prick the conscience of the people who do have the power to effect the change that is needed. At least that is the perception.

Go ahead and protest. It raises social consciousness. It demonstrates a necessary urgency. It forces the issue top of mind and demands that we take the issue seriously. But it isn’t enough. Young people have much more power than they might think, but it will take much more effort, sustained effort, and we, as adults, need to help them in every way we can. Their lives may depend on it!

What am I talking about?

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A Brief History of Indiscriminate School Shootings in the US

Depositphotos Image ID: 4503903 Copyright: tlorna

Ever since the school shooting in Florida, I have had a hard time moving on from the subject, as have many people judging by my social media feeds. I am not sure what is different about this one. Maybe there isn’t anything different – and maybe that is exactly the problem. School shootings have become all too commonplace.

Instead of accepting occasional school shootings as the price we pay for the 2nd Amendment, which was drafted not for hunting and the pleasure of shooting, but to ensure “the security of a free State”[1], we need to come together as reasonable, civil citizens of our great country, and find some solutions to this recurring problem. We have to recognize, first, that it is a problem, and we have to admit that something needs to be done about it.

We can’t hope for solutions if we aren’t willing to listen to each other. We can’t listen to each other if we can’t stop all the ideological rhetoric.

So we must listen and put down our ideological weapons. Our kids’ lives depend on it!

Gun rights advocates are not all crazed, right wing zealots, and gun control advocates are not all soft, naive, liberal elitists. There are good people on both sides who have legitimate points of view, and there is room to find thoughtful solutions. There are many issues on which reasonable minds can differ. Nothing is more unproductive than painting each other in caricature strokes of wild colors.

But I digress. I don’t want to talk about gun rights or gun control. The problem isn’t just the availability of guns, and tighter gun controls is only a band-aid over a much deeper societal problem. I can say that with some degree of confidence after looking at the history of gun violence in schools. Let’s look at the facts.

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The 2nd Amendment, Freedom & Responsibility

Depositphotos Image ID: 173296888 Copyright: zimmytws

Is there a more potent weapon today then a gun in the hands of a person with mal-intent? Are schools no longer safe places for children? These questions are not mere speculation, but serious deadly considerations in the wake of another school shooting tragedy.

It’s clear that platitudes, like thoughts and prayers, are not enough of a response any more, as if they ever were. Not that we shouldn’t be thoughtful or prayerful, but “faith without works is dead”, as the brother of Jesus said.

“If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2:15-16)

Likewise, if all we do is offer condolences and our thoughts and prayers, what good is that?! Our faith, if we have any, demands action. Where is the fruit?

I get all of the arguments for the Second Amendment. I am a lawyer. Our nation was founded on the principles of an independent, free and empowered citizenry, and the right to bear arms was intended to ensure that freedom. Guns have been championed as a symbol of freedom. With freedom, though, comes responsibility (echoing the words of Eleanor Roosevelt).

I’m a Christian, but I don’t get the popular Christian response to gun laws. Where in the Bible does it tell us to defend our rights to own firearms? Jesus told Peter to put down his sword, but he’s telling us to protect our guns?

Thoughts and prayers don’t cut it when children are lying dead on the playground. Thoughts and prayers need to be followed up with love and action. We need to do something before there is another tragedy, and another one after that.

But I am not just directing my focus on Christians. I see a much more potent weapon than guns in our society today.

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Tragic Irony and A Newtown Example

Heinz Kluetmeier for Sports Illustrated

Heinz Kluetmeier for Sports Illustrated

We are too often reminded of the evil that lurks in the human heart, yet we react in shock whenever and wherever it erupts. The examples are the favorite children of the media, the fertile ground for growing readership. We recoil from senseless acts of depravity almost as much as we stop and stare at these train wrecks that are memorialized before us and etched into our collective minds by print and other forms of media. We fixate on them and exorcise them by appropriate judgment and disdain for the insensibility of deranged souls that star in these real life dramas, but these tragedies and our reactions to them also reveal some ironic human tendencies.

We are often not moved to great acts of goodness, except in reaction to tragedies. The more exposure to tragedies, difficulties and hardships, especially ones that do not affect us, the less likely we are to be moved by them to help others. When tragedy hits too close to home, we can be crippled into inaction; while the same tragedy experienced from a greater distance inspires others to action.

Fortunately, for most of us, tragedies happen to “other people” and rarely hit close to our homes. Perhaps unfortunately for those of us so lucky to avoid the direct fall out of a tragedy, the shock waves quickly dissipate as we go on with our daily lives. Not many of us are able to shake off the sleep that sets in with daily routines in a way that affects any change. The emotion fades quickly to a factual memory, stored away with historical dates and numbers and other tidbits.

I dare say that we tend to remain largely unaffected by distant tragedies after the initial  shock wears quickly off.

People are a funny lot. When things happen to others, we are not nearly so affected as when they happen to us, or close to us. When tragedy hits close to home, we tend to be deeply affected, and often deeply changed. The people who have been personally affected by tragedy, difficulty or hardship are the ones who devote themselves to helping others with similar experiences. Charitable organizations are often founded by people affected by the particular issues that the charities are formed to address. In this way, some people reap the fortune of other people’s tragedies.

Almost every tragedy, whether it comes from human action, natural events or other ways, triggers an outpouring of generosity, kindness, good will and even heroism. The Sandy Hook shooting, 9/11 and many other human tragedies are followed by these outpourings of good. It occurs to me that this phenomenon is kind of like Newton’s Third Law of physics (every action has an equal and opposite reaction). For every evil that occurs, people are inspired to react with great goodness.

There is certainly some irony in that. I am not sure why tragedies bring out the best in people. Maybe we are too easily dulled by everyday life into forgetting that people are in need all around us. It takes a catastrophic event, and clear evidence of need, to spur us to good actions. We are shocked into reacting. Tragedies caused by other people, perhaps, spur reaction as if the reaction, itself, can redeem the human race.

No one would wish for tragedy to inspire goodness. Yet, tragedies do inspire goodness. We cannot avoid many natural tragedies like tornados, cancer and things out of our control, but there are things we can do to avoid man-made tragedies like the Sandy Hook shooting. A different kind of action is required to avoid these senseless actions by people. It takes pro-action instead of reaction. It takes intentional action in our everyday lives to be kind, generous, sensitive to others and willing to give ourselves to better others around us.

If we all lived intentionally like that every day in our lives, we would not have as many outcast, downtrodden and tortured souls who end up acting on their impulses – and reactions to “evils” they have experienced – that results in tragedies like the Sandy Hook shooting.

My inspiration for this piece actually comes out of the Sandy Hook shooting. The inspiration is a fourteen year old boy, Jack Wellman of Newtown, Connecticut, who is living the example of this kind of proactive life. He has turned his own setbacks, difficulties and “tragedies” into opportunities to help others in small, daily ways that have a very positive impact on those around him and his community. What I like about this story is that it overlaps with the Sandy Hook tragedy, but Jack Wellman was living this life before the tragedy occurred, and he continued to live this way in spite of his own struggles with grief that threatened to overwhelm him when tragedy hit his hometown.

Just as tragedy can spur heroic and good reactions, it can cripple action with grief and despair. Jack Wellman stands in contrast to Newton-like reactions we sometimes see and experience (or should I say Newtown-like reactions?). Tragedy did not spur Jack Wellman’s action, and tragedy did not stop him from acting either.

This is the beauty of the human soul. We do not have to be instinctual, reactive beings, though we often are. We have the freedom to rise above those things and be our own agents for action and change. We can all be Jack Wellmans.

If you have time, please follow this link to read the story of Jack Wellman in Sports Illustrated for Kids. Jack Wellman is the 2013 Sports Illustrated Kid of the Year. It is well worth your time.