"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace."
First, in February, there was the Chardon school shooting -- three dead. Then, in July, there was the Aurora movie theater shooting -- 12 dead. In August, there was the Milwaukee Sikh Temple shooting -- six dead. And the count continues.
According to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the U.S. has averaged 20 mass shootings every year. Already in 2012, there have been more than 50 casualties due to these shootings. The movie theater shooting was the sixth in the month of July.
After the school shooting, one of our young associates, just out of college, asked the question: When does the idea to kill enter the mind of a would-be killer? What are the societal factors, she asked, and what is the "tipping point" that confluence between the potential and the actual?
Psalmists and experts alike have struggled with the answers and, yet, we still just have questions and profiles. Forty-two out of the past 60 mass shooters were white males; the average age was 35; just under half of the most recent incidents were in schools or workplaces; most shooters obtained their weapons legally; many gave others (who stood by) advance notice of their potential killings.
But these profiles don't give us the answers we seek: Why do people hate? When does hurt turn to rage and then to violence? How can we stop intolerance and encourage love? And, finally, how can we stop the perpetrators before they act out?
We have no comprehensive answers to these perpetual questions. Although, in Project Love, our character-building program that empowers teens to build cultures of kindness, caring and respect, we do focus on one simple solution: the power of one.
It was the power of one police officer in Westlake, Ohio that prevented a white male from remaining in a Westlake theater while he possessed a loaded Glock handgun, two loaded magazine clips, and several knives. Similarly, the power of one moved Frank Hall and Joseph Ricci, teachers at Chardon High School to put themselves in harm's way to save students. Lt. Brian Murphy, who was critically injured while trying to save the Sikh worshippers, represents the power of one. So do Alex Teves, Jon Blunk and Matt McQuinn, all of whom died in the theater shooting while heroically shielding others.
Ironically, using the power of one in profiling is a double-edged sword. While in the case of the Westlake police officer it may have saved lives, in the case of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin, profiling may have taken a life. Profiling and generalizing those who wear turbans also may have caused the hate to bubble over in Wade Michael Page as he unleashed his rage onto peaceful, prayerful, innocent Sikhs.
Profiling as prevention may be one of the compromises our society has to make, but profiling as the endgame, demonstrated both by the Sikh shooting and Trayvon Martin's death, leads to more disregard and licenses the haters to hate. An environment of hate and fear ultimately leads to an explosion -- and more hate.
In the movie Minority Report, Steven Spielberg portrayed a community so into profiling that people would be jailed based on three clairvoyants' visual forecasts of potential future crimes. The fallacy was that, although the combination of the event and pre-disposition did accurately forecast the crime, the power of the individual to opt out of the negative act proved them wrong. For that same reason, most religions condemn negative actions, not negative thoughts. Again, the power of one!
So what is the answer? What do we tell our children about how to interact with the world? Are they to go around profiling everyone they see? Is fear their new normal?
The only way that we can reconcile this conundrum is to tell them that every human being has the personal power to do good or contribute to evil. They can add more darkness, curse the darkness, or light a candle. If enough people light candles, the darkness ultimately goes away. Fear doesn't lessen hate, nor does it eliminate darkness. It creates more fear.
We choose to answer the question by focusing on the power of one to bring more light into the world. The "fight" then becomes a personal battle to choose good over evil and to put more good into the world.
What will we tell our children? That the best advice is often counter-intuituve. In a time of hate, love; in a time of darkness, light a candle; in a time of bad, do good. Encourage positivity, believe in the power of one, and don't give into despair.
The superintendent of the Chardon School District, immediately after three of his students were killed, perhaps put it best: "You know how you deal with evil? Go out and do an act of kindness."
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