Updated: May 31
USA shootings- round and round we go:
The nightmare merry-go-round which no one seems willing or able to switch off, whilst parents scream get our children off and don’t put any more on. But like some terrifying déjà vu, it carries on turning and the eerie music is all too familiar to us all as we have heard it before.
There are those that speak out when they see that things are not right whilst there are others that are silent, in denial, turn the other way and worse still are indifferent to the suffering of those who are not the same as them or not in their immediate circles. I talk about this in The Six Stages Framework Book
Which one of these are you? Is it a case of the lesser of two evils?
Most of us like to think we are the good people and that we would speak up if we saw that something was wrong but often when you stop and look at our behaviours and actions we can fall short. Some might add that this inaction is not always consciously so. Or that our behaviours are not always within our control.
In my view standing around and doing nothing and not speaking up is way up there on the spectrum of injustice or on the violence bystander spectrum.
So, do you believe in good and evil? The honest answer is I don’t know. I do however recognise the ‘human flaw of indifference’ and the damage this can do.
I suppose if you pressed me, I would say I believe in evil acts but as a psychologist I’ve always been taught to separate the act from the person. To try and understand what has brought the person to the position they are in and to ask what are the environmental factors as well as internal factors which have contributed to their behaviours. Having been brought up as a Catholic, I was also taught about forgiveness. Again, very difficult messages for the parents in Uvalde going through what they’re going through right now and also difficult for many of us who are witnessing the massacres in the United States. Would you be able to forgive these acts? Can you separate the person from the acts?
I also ask whether it is possible to forgive the blatant inaction we witnessed in responding to the shooter and in not saving the 19 children and 2 teachers. And also, the inaction in terms of dealing with gun violence and gun sales.
One thing which is clear is that many of us are left reeling at the events in Uvalde and in Buffalo: feeling empty and helpless and angry. The parents, families and communities in Uvalde are as one father who lost his daughter said scarred for live.
Many are asking when are we going to do something and many are appalled at the fact that whilst children were fearing and some running for their lives “we” did nothing.
So back to my opening question do you believe in Good and Evil?
What is evil? How does it manifest? Can a failure to act also be considered to be an act of evil?
When language fails us, and we don’t know what to say and we don’t know what to think; we are plunged into the depths of darkness, and we find ourselves asking questions about good and evil.
The Six Stages Framework offers a language to talk about violent acts and about the negative dimensions of the Six Stages where people spiral out of control into bad, and destructive behaviours culminating at stage -6 which some may refer to as extreme and violent behaviours. And some may even go as far as to call behaviours at stage -6 evil.
Whilst the Six Stages framework was originally formulated with racism and racial injustice in mind, it can be adapted to other forms of discriminations such as disability or LGBTIQQ and also to other extreme acts such as violence towards women or violent killings like we have just seen in Uvalde and Buffalo.
Sometimes we fail to see the signs and symptoms of behaviours spiralling down the negative axis of the Six Stages Framework whether that be as it applies to racism or to adaptation of the Six Stages Framework as it applies to violence. Is this because we don’t have the language to think about these issues or because we just don’t like to think about behaviours and acts which some may describe as bad or even evil?
Many of us are uncomfortable with the word Evil. But a few days ago, I heard Freddy Gray, deputy editor of the Spectator interviewed on CNN, and he suggested that we need to start talking more openly about these extreme violent behaviours such as the massacre of the children and teachers in Uvalde.
We seem to be stuck in a loop; there’s one shooting and then we talk about it; some have a racial element and then we will talk about gun laws and gun reforms. But we don’t really talk about evil and what is evil and does it have a spiritual dimension or not. We don’t have the language to talk about this.
His message was nothing changes and that perhaps the politics is the problem, and that the politics may be feeding into the problem. His message was also about the need to find the language to talk about these issues.
I’m sure like me you may feel uncomfortable talking in terms of evil. As I said above in my training as an educational psychologist we try and separate the behaviour from the child or the person. But increasingly this is hard to do, and I find myself having to dig deep in terms of not using such words as evil.
I suppose I find myself thinking that the people who carry out these violent acts are as much victims of society and their acts reflect society’s inability and failures to offer leadership and guidance.
Frankly there seem to have been a catalogue of failures in the recent violent shootings in Uvalde (and in Buffalo):
- Failure to take action and to stop the nightmare merry-go-round and to say enough is enough.
- Failure to tackle the devastating impact of social media and misinformation which allows groups to form which can encourage and feed the destructive elements and negative behaviours which culminate in these massacres.
- Failure to save the poor innocent children and many others who have perished in similar ways.
- Failure of the police to respond in a timely fashion; to respond as if their own children were in the building.
- Failures in addressing issues of mental health and in identifying the signs and symptoms early in order to put in place interventions to support this young man.
- Failures of political leaders in the US in finding a way forward in terms of gun reform.
- Failures in terms of empathy and compassion for a fellow human beings by politicians and those in charge.
- Failures to take seriously the hate and pain which seems to be fuelling many of young men and teenagers which then escalates into this kind of behaviour.
- Failures to address the problems and a tendency to turn away and believe that this does not affect me and therefore I don’t have to do anything.
- Failure to support young people and adults to manage their anger and to self-regulate. Failure to support children and young people and some adults to recognise that if someone disagrees with you that this is not a personal attack on you as a person.
- Failures of leadership, accountability and of compassion and empathy towards others. Sometimes hearing the news, it seems the view that some take is if it doesn’t affect me then it doesn’t matter. They are not my children. But it does matter.
- Failure to recognise and understand the devastating and destructive impact that guns have and also that social media and some video games have.
- Failure to support people who get lost in violent video games and then simply argue that this is their reality and to locate the problem in individuals and call label them as evil.
It’s like the USA are stuck on a nightmare rollercoaster which many watching around the world are left bewildered and asking why doesn’t someone just switch off the power and let people off. Why are the politicians and leaders failing to act? Why are they putting politics, wealth and their positions above the lives of little children?
We seem to have lost our way and to be forgetting basic human values and the right of every child and person to be able to live in safety and without fear.
But the truth is these FAILURES affect us all and as I asked in my recent post on Twitter and LinkedIn WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF THIS HAPPENED TO YOU?
Some say that it’s difficult to look at signs and symptoms and behaviours. They say the following:
- You hear that the shooter was a bully, or that he was depressed or suffered from mental illness but lots of people are bullies and suffer from mental health illness, it doesn’t mean they’re going to shoot anybody.
- Lots of people are angry, but it doesn’t mean they are going to shoot anybody.
- Many people play video games, but they don’t turn to violence,
Some say it’s disingenuous to say look for the signs but what they don’t realise is that you’re not just looking for one sign but you’re looking at an interaction of signs and symptoms and this has to be done by people who are skilled at understanding behaviours. Surely the key here is that this young man had made threats and told people he was planning something. This is really important and maybe should be viewed as a sign. The young man and shooter in Buffalo also planted seeds of evidence in terms of his intended actions.
The violent acts in question are certainly difficult to understand and to some they can only be viewed and described as evil. Yet the tendency to look away and to not take action in order to stop this nightmare merry-go-round can also be described as evil.
The pleas for change seem to be falling on deaf ears. Will anything change or will we keep going round the nightmare merry-go-round time and time again like in some nightmare déjà vu movie or dream?
When asked about the recent shooting Mick North, UK gun control advocate whose five-year-old daughter was killed in the Dunblane shooting said:
I’m always shocked but not surprised… And after there’s always a lot of talk, a lot of prayer and a lot of tears, And then people move on.
I think sometimes turning a blind eye to the suffering of others whether this is in terms of racial injustice or violence against children or women or discriminations against other groups is way up there in terms of undesirable behaviours and some may indeed call it evil.
Where is our compassion? Where is our empathy and where is our humanity? Is it really a case of every child/man/woman for him/herself?
So, I ask you how are you coping hearing about these violent acts and massacres? Is it right to use the word evil? Why is it that we don’t have a language to talk about these things? What about leadership, why is it that the leaders seem to be failing in dealing with these issues?
As more and more evidence comes to light about the tragic events in Uvalde it is even more clear that many questions remain and everyone is screaming “STOP”, “NO MORE INACTION” “STOP THIS NIGHTMARE MERRY-GO-ROUND” and “WE NEED TO DO BETTER”.
Our children and ALL Children deserve better, ALL Children’s lives matter All Children deserve to be protected and not left asking (as one survivor did, when she found out that the police had been outside for an hour before coming into the school) WHY DID THEY NOT COME IN TO SAVE US?
A message of hope:
Having written and posted this blog, I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about it.
So ask me again do I believe in good and evil?
If there is evil, I belief in the power of good to triumph over evil. And this begins by small every day acts that each of us can make, starting with casting away indifference and caring about our fellow human beings. We can show this by speaking out and pressing for change even if we are not immediately affected and we are not the ones suffering. By showing compassion for everyone even those that are different from us, those in our neighbourhoods and those who are in communities thousands of miles away.
Dr Shungu Hilda M'gadzah
Director & Lead Consultant Psychologist
Inclusion Psychologists Ltd
A few days ago, I posted on Twitter and Linkedin:
“How would you feel if it happened to you?” Steve Kerr asked.
It’s a question we all need to ask ourselves this morning.
Setting aside the motive(s) or state of mind of this 18-year-old (whether it be an addiction to video games, childhood experiences of being bullied) which may have prompted this latest massacre many are posting messages of a call to action.
Again, I am asking why were the signs missed? No one turns to gun violence overnight. There would have been signs as he spiralled into this action to take innocent lives. What factors in his environment have influenced him to think this is ok and this is the answer?
Matthew McConaughey in his Instagram post spoke of our failure to be responsible for the rights our freedoms grant us…We have to take a longer and deeper look in the mirror and ask, What is it we truly value? We cannot exhale once again, make excuses and accept these tragic realities as the status quo
He went on to say:
We have to re-evaluate and renegotiate our wants from our needs.
His messages points to questions about leadership and accountability.
What is it we value? Steve Kerr asked
Is it power or is it our children?
It has never been more clear than now that the time for talking is over, America needs to take action. Everyone is vulnerable until this issue is resolved.
Silence is not an option. Things need to change. The failure to protect children and our communities and a failure to address the motives which lead to these tragedies has to stop.
We have to do better.”
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