The height of stupidity

After the recent mass shooting in a school in Florida, there has been an intense debate in the USA regarding gun control and school shootings.

The tragedy in Florida has not been an isolated event. It has been reported that in the seven weeks of 2018, there have been eight school shootings resulting in injury or death.

Mass shootings are proliferating in the USA in an uncontrollable way. On a broader societal scale, 2017 has been reported as the deadliest year for mass shootings in the history of the USA. According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 345 mass shootings in 2017.

The frequency and/or ferocity of the mass shootings can be viewed as a measure of the emotional and psychological health of a society. Given these number of shootings, one can draw the harsh conclusion that American society is at war with itself.

Politicians are reluctant to (a) impose any restrictions on gun ownership and (b) get to the societal and psychological reasons of these horrific events.

Many politicians have been funded by The National Rifle Association. In fact, it has been reported that Trump was the beneficiary of $30 million in NRA spending in the 2016 election. Given that the NRA, politics and finance are so tightly interwoven, it is no surprise that many politicians will not support any form of gun control.

Two days after the Florida tragedy, insensitive and inappropriate photographs of the president of the USA (with thumbs up and narcissistic grin), with (a) law enforcement and (b) medical personnel in the hospital where victims were being treated, were officially released by the White House.

A week after the event, the president has now suggested/proposed that teachers need to be armed as a solution to stopping school shootings.

Pointing the way – To where?

In line with this stupidity, maybe the following should also be considered:

  • all 18 year olds need to undergo weapon training in order to protect themselves in times of crisis,
  • every 18 year old student should be legally required to carry a weapon at school for protection and as a deterrent against possible attack,
  • a parental roster needs to be drawn up for at least 10 armed parents to patrol the perimeter and corridors of the school at any given time to protect the children,
  • at least two snipers need to be strategically positioned on school roofs in order to eliminate any potential threat,
  • two police patrol cars and an ambulance permanently stationed at every school so that the 1st response time to crisis is almost instantaneous.

While this may all sound ridiculous it is not out of the realm of possibility, given the type of thinking from the president and the politicians in Washington. The simplistic logic of trying to solve mass shootings by adding more guns to the gun problem is the type of ‘more of the same’ thinking that escalates and intensifies the problem, yet also avoids the fundamental societal issues that are at the heart of the issue.

Mass shootings are an attack on the system. From a psychological perspective, a student or person who embarks on a shooting spree has been dealing with an unresolved interpersonal issue that gets projected onto the group.

On a fundamental level, the perpetrator is generally dealing with one or more of:

  • an intense build-up of anger that eventually cannot be contained,
  • a masked depression that gets expressed in a hostile way,
  • alienation, isolation and exclusion, with no sense of belonging,
  • severe emotional pain that dulls sensitivity, compassion and remorse,
  • rigid and excessive prejudice towards those who are perceived as being different, and therefore considered a threat.

These feelings cannot be taken out of a family, community or society context. Without considering an interpersonal context, behaviour has no meaning.

Perpetrators of mass shootings have a deep anger and resentment towards the group/society in which they exist. Turning onto the group in a violent way is a counter-balance to feelings of helplessness. On a historical level, many of those carrying out these acts of violence have had to deal with being bullied, acts of unfairness, exclusion and/or alienation at certain stages of their lives. On a family level, little or no emotional support may have been available to help encourage the individual to resolve conflict in a healthy, constructive manner.

The president of the USA is known to be a bully and bigot, who unleashes processes that divide instead of unite societies, and who supports legislation that excludes and alienates minorities. Maybe the statistic of 345 mass shootings in his 1st year in office is just a reflection of how his personal methodology of resolving conflicts is playing itself out on a societal level? But there again, deaths of innocent children at school may actually be nothing more than fake reporting by the fake news!

As I conclude, I want to acknowledge my sadness at the loss of innocent lives in all of the mass shootings that have occurred world wide and my anger at all of the inept, self-serving politicians who are reluctant and afraid to address the real issues that are tearing societies apart.

Struggling to gain credibility

There may be many reasons why an elite sporting team performs poorly over time.

In my experience, the biggest contributing factor in determining whether the team wins or loses over time, is the nature of the leadership and the interpersonal dynamics that envelops the coach. A coach will struggle to motivate, unite and integrate the diversity of ideas within a team if the players experience the coach to be:

  • a bully
  • self-centred
  • non-trusting
  • arrogant
  • inconsiderate
  • disrespectful or demeaning
  • defensive or aggressive

If the players do not feel emotionally safe and are not able to be open and honest with the coach, for fear of reprisal, they will undermine and sabotage whatever the coach says, even if it means losing match after match. When such dynamics exist, the team invariably implodes and goes into a downward spiral. The team will want the coach to fail and will unconsciously or consciously sacrifice its performance to ensure that the coach gains no credit for any achievement or success. As this process intensifies over time, the coach will invariably ‘get fired’ due to the ongoing losses.

This does not only happen, in sporting contexts. It is the nature of human behaviour and can be seen in families, educational settings, work contexts and certainly in political contexts, where there may be many axes to grind with opponents – due to past issues.

The ascent
The ascent

In a previous post, I stated that in his personal quest to become president, Trump may have unleashed a complex divisive process in the country that may prove difficult to manage or change, when he is president… and that trying to lead a divided nation may prove to be more complex and challenging than dealing with immigration issues, threats of terrorism, or international trade relations with other countries.

Trump is dealing with legitimacy issues and is struggling to gain credibility.

In his desperate attempt to salvage credibility he is unleashing self-defeating processes that continually undermine his worthiness by:

  • fabricating stories (as if fact), to portray an image of success
  • attacking the press to negate their perspective of an event
  • impulsively signing executive orders to prove that he is a president that acts
  • ongoing social media tweets that reflect a defensive immaturity
  • publicly attacking other leaders (past and present)
  • denying the bubbling stories around his (or his team’s) relationship and involvement with Russia during and after his presidential campaign

Trump activates controversy and chaos in relationships. In short, he creates drama. He has a disruptive and divisive energy flow that may have succeeded in business as he gained the upper hand over a competitor. He appears to have many hidden agendas and given his modus operandi, others will not trust him. While he could dictate how he would do business with others, by hiring and firing who and when he wanted to, he is now finding that he cannot control the opinions of others around him.

Trump is not mindful of what he says and how he says it, especially with regard to indisputable facts. He does not fully comprehend the impact of what he says. Trump seems to believe that there is a fixed reality according to his perspective, which everyone needs to agree with. He does not seem to understand and accept that in this age of information flow, everyone has an opinion and interpretation of an event.

For now, Trump is teetering on the edge. In time, he will reveal more and more of himself. Over the past couple of weeks it has become clear that drama, distraction and fabrication will be drivers of his information flow. In the process, however, he may need to guard against digging himself in a hole from which it will be impossible to emerge.

Trump continually suggests that he is and will be, the most successful president of the United States of America. In a rather paradoxical way, he needs to understand that humility and ethics can start a process in which he slowly gains some credibility, however small. Without this, he is doomed to fail.

In the end, only the people will decide whether he is credible or not.

Leading a Divided States of America

Donald Trump will be the next president of the Divided States of America.

Rising moon over the Alps
Rising moon over the Alps

Many years ago I facilitated a Tenth grade group discussion about Apocalypse Now, the epic film about the Vietnam war. There was much debate about the methods of Colonel Kurtz, the insane officer who broke away from the army establishment to fight his own war. For Kurtz, there were no humane rules when it came to fighting the enemy. He argued that the only way you could defeat the enemy was to align yourself more purposefully to the brutality of war than your enemy was able to do. ‘Horror has a face…and you must make a friend of horror’. He spoke about the ingenuity of the enemy who had hacked off the arms of children in a village since they had accepted help from the Americans, ‘…these men who fought with their hearts, who had families, who had children, who were filled with love…but they had the strength…the strength…to do that’.

Kurtz shared a frightening insight: ‘If I had ten divisions of those men, our troubles here would be over very quickly. You have to have men who are moral…and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling…without passion…without judgment! Because it’s judgment that defeats us’.

The world of politics is full of deception, denials and hypocrisy. If we follow Colonel Kurtz’s logic, then Donald Trump played the political game to perfection. He should not be judged for his (a) perverse opinions of women, minorities and/or less fortunate human beings, (b) demeaning personal attacks on his opponents, (c) inflaming emotionality around sensitive issues that do not have simple solutions (such as immigration, terrorism, economic recession) and (d) neglecting and/or refusing to logically debate any issue that he was confronted with by the press, debate moderators or political opponents.

In his presidential campaign Trump said a lot of things. Like most politicians, soon he will forget what he said and/or deny that he said what he said. In time, even his own supporters will forget what was said, as they return to their unchanged lives, having to deal with the same issues that were around for decades. But what if he remembers a little of what he had said? Will he then act on his words? The chances are slim, since the nature of politics is to talk a lot and then to selectively forget what was spoken about. Actions may or may not follow, depending on the reality of the financial constraints that are at play.

In my experience as a therapist, I have come to see that words can belittle or they can uplift. Words are never forgotten if they have caused pain or more positively, given hope and meaning in times of despair. Words have a power that should never be underestimated. Besides the actual words, it is also the intention and energy that underpins what is being said that defines how the words are being received by others.

In his personal quest to become president, Trump may have unleashed a complex divisive process in the country that may prove difficult to manage and/or change. As the president of the Divided States of America, he is now faced with the challenge of uniting and healing a nation, not to mention, bringing together members of his own party that have been alienated in the process. There will be many people who will not forget what he has said. Given this, he will find it near impossible to win over their hearts and gain their respect. Trying to lead a divided nation may be more complex and challenging than dealing with immigration issues, threats of terrorism, and/or international trade relations with other countries that may be skeptical and mistrusting of one’s motives.