Rampage Violence – Newtown & Narrative
We have spent considerable time in past posts, talking about personal narrative (the story you tell yourself about yourself) and how your narrative, on the one hand, can make your world more rational and organized, and your interactions with it more efficient and effective,¬† yet, on the other hand, can lead to misperception and inappropriate behavior, when your narrative has failed to adjust to changing circumstances.¬† Another function of narrative is to relieve us of fear. We observe patterns of how the world works from the youngest of ages, deduce meaning from those patterns, find that meaning supplemented or adjusted by the the narratives of those around us, all with the intention of ensuring our survival. In short, we come to live in a ‚Äúbelief based‚ÄĚ reality. Your narrative is your talisman.
Cultures operate in the same fashion. A cultural narrative arises from a weaving together of common narrative beliefs and meanings of the individuals constituting the culture. And, just as the individual narratives contribute to the narrative of the culture, the culture’s narrative shapes that of the individual. Both individual and cultural narratives break down in the face of tragedy. That is what the December 14, Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings caused — a narrative breakdown. You are awash in pain and fear. What happened there doesn’t fit how you see your world, either at an individual or societal level. The pictures of those young, innocent faces, forever lost to us, chatters our belief dependent reality. What can we do to restore our faith in the world that our beliefs have created?
What distinguishes the Newtown aftermath for many of the tragedies I have had to confront in my coaching and law practices is that more than the individual narrative here is being challenged. Our cultural narrative also has been disrupted. When I coach an individual whose life¬† has moved into chaos as a consequence of a terminal diagnosis, a financial failure, or the death of the child, I recognize that the work ahead of us is to build a new narrative, fitting that those changed circumstances. This never is easy and certainly doesn’t happen overnight. It is a gradual rebuilding process — brick by brick, week after week — observing new patterns with fresh eyes, seeking new meanings. One of the extraordinary benefits flowing from such painful circumstance is that sometimes the new narrative blends the best of the old with new insights, leading the client into a more harmonious fit in this new world and enabling the individual to make more generous contributions to that world for the benefit of others. The pain may never completely subside. But, a sense of new found purpose affects a “healing.”
That is my hope for a post-Newtown outcome. That is why, I suppose, I am putting these thoughts down. But I also am horribly concerned about the directions the post-Newtown conversations are taking. Those conversations are not congruent with a necessarily better world.
The conversations generally have broken into two strands. The first is that we are dealing with a gun control issue. If that means of rampage violence were eliminated, our narratives could be restored. The strand has an extension, concerning violence in games and other electronic media. That argument maintains that if exposure to and training in violent practices were circumscribed, rampage violence would be even further subdued.
The second path focuses on mental health. In this conversation, guns are not the problem. Failure to identify and treat those few capable of committing such atrocities is the procuring cause of the rampages. Unfortunately, each path is overlain with political agendas that distort and manipulate the ability to established and maintain meaningful dialogue.
In the end, I suspect that absent the political externalities,¬† our society could reach consensus on¬† a bundle of policies affecting both gun control and mental health that might conform to and sustain our narratives for years to come. After all, the paths approach entirely different issues — the “who” and the “how” of rampage.
But I am concerned that even¬† such a combination misses a critical point of rampage violence. We will take this up in¬† the next post.