Not guns, but Belonging

I agree with President Obama: More guns will not make anyone safer. But, it’s not just the gunlaws! We live in a culture where killing is seen as a viable option when you’re pissed off.

Yesterday we heard of another tragedy, a kid shooting other kids at a school in Oregon, and then being “neutralized”, as they call it, by police. Shortly after, the President spoke of how all this is becoming routine, the horrific event, the briefing after, and what will follow of arguments for and against stronger gun laws. The worst horror, I think, is the routine: We get so many news of horror, we collectively desensitize, go back to business as usual. Besides, how well can we really distinguish between reality and fiction when it’s all communicated through the same screens?

I don’t know anything about this particular kid who took to killing his peers. But I do know that we live in a culture where the “training” everyone gets is allowing for what’s happening. It’s not just the gun laws (although they surely matter). What about watching movies where all the “bad guys” are supposed to be taken out? What about the interactive games, where a different set of bad “guys” are to be “killed” for you to score? And what about the more subtle act of honking in sudden onset of anger at someone who is driving in a way you don’t like? It has becomes the norm, in little and large ways, this endorsement of hurting others when we get upset, some form of retaliation, killing as a solution.

It’s a story of separation.
The real solution then, is in belonging.

Remember the saying “kids don’t do what you say, but do what you do”? It’s true, we learn how to belong to our shared humanity through internalizing others’ behaviors. But if our contact with a community of flesh-and-blood persons is scanty or scattered, we will learn from virtual ones. And virtual characters usually don’t reveal feelings and needs, don’t teach us how to give and receive empathy, how to negotiate differences, to dialogue or fight things out in some manner… There are plenty of options for restoring balance inside and connection with others, for recovering from our upset states, but mostly we learn that “others” are at fault, and we’re entitled to revenge.

It’s a story of separation.
The real solution then, is in belonging.

And then there is the *upset* itself. Some people flip easily, while others stay calm in the midst of emotional thunderstorms. What makes someone flip? Some action or interaction – or interpretation of it – that does not sit well, that is felt as humiliating, or lacking respect in some way. Psychologist Heinz Kohut showed us decades ago that some experiences can lead to “a sense of annihilation” – of “not existing” among ones’ group – and with that, a senseless rage can erupt. There is no lonelier place that that, and I surmise that’s just about how unhappy this last kid with guns was feeling.

It’s a story of separation.
The real solution then, is in belonging.

Or, as Martin Luther King Jr. said it: “We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society.” In a “thing-oriented” society we tend to see others as entities to get something from, riches or fame or relief from pain, but not as the ones we share our beingness with.

The real solution then, is in belonging.

Maja Bengtson
Oct 2, 2015

2 thoughts on “Not guns, but Belonging

  1. Easy to “get”. Stimulating — especially the part of how interactive games and media cannot teach us to experience empathy with real sentient beings. What a great post, Maja.


  2. Maja, your post is really helpful. I just visited the Oslo cathedral, where I saw a large collection of Norwegian responses to their July 22 mass murder (69 teen-agers executed coldly and methodically in 2011). Some Norwegians are suggesting arming the police. But the majority know that is not the anwser. Your perspective feels like it might be extremely helpful. It gives a clear criterion by which to judge different responses. I hope you can find a way to offer your insight to the Norwegians.


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