Why do young men commit mass shootings in our schools? What makes them turn to gun violence? Since the Sandy Hook shootings the debate has gone on ad infinitum about media violence, gun control and mental health. Who dropped the ball and how do we fix it? Everyone is blaming the causes but not looking at the very source of the problem.
It isn’t the media’s fault. It isn’t the NRA’s fault and it isn’t the lack of mental health help…it’s bigger than that. It’s a single character defect that lives in all of us. It’s a society and global problem called…”shame.” Everyone has suffered from it at one point in our lives and we all know it intimately.
Researcher and psychologist, Brene Brown lectured in her TED talk, “shame is an epidemic in our culture – it’s the way we’re parenting and it’s the way we’re treating each other.”
The shame cycle starts, for fragile young men (who may resort to violence), in high school. High school is where boys learn to become men. It is arguably the worst time in all our lives, female or male. That is unless you were prom king or queen. Most of us weren’t even in the homecoming party…we were eating paste, being shoved into lockers and getting picked last for team sports. In other words, high school sucked!
And why wouldn’t it be the worst time? Think about it. At that age we experience the most intense and crippling social fear, we have no control of any of our emotions, we’re raging with hormones and we get labeled by our peers as: Jocks, nerds, popular, druggies, normal or freaks. We want to belong and fit in and if we don’t, we feel we’re not good enough. That feeling of not being enough is the very definition of shame.
Brene Brown writes about this feeling of not belonging in the New York Magazine article, High School Is A Sadistic Institution, “shame on the other hand, is a much more global, crippling sensation. Those who feel it aren’t energized by it but isolated. They feel unworthy of acceptance and fellowship; they labor under the impression that their awfulness is something to hide. And this incredibly painful feeling that you’re not lovable or worthy of belonging…You’re navigating that feeling every day in High School.”
The common denominator to many of the mass shooters were that they were all either in high school or not too far out of high school. Most were outcasts. They felt isolated from their peers and were often bullied. They were constantly told they weren’t good enough.
Every teenage boy wants to belong and feel a part of. If this doesn’t happen then a painful psyche emerges. So what do the boys do with this pain? Brene Brown answers that for us, “most of us opt for one of three strategies to cope with this pain. We move away from it by secret keeping, by hiding; we move toward it by people pleasing; or we move against it by using shame and aggression to fight shame and aggression.”
The male shooters fought the shame and aggression in high school by using shame and aggression. So how do we address the problem of gun violence and mass shootings by young men in our schools? We do this by addressing shame.
The way teens are socialized in our high schools needs a massive over-hauling because right now high school is petri dish of fear, anger, shame and frustration. Our teens are being sent off to war every day with little or no support. What is kryptonite to shame? That would be empathy and compassion.
The Dalai Lama has it right. He believes that empathy and compassion should be taught in our schools so that we can create more well-adjusted human beings in our society. So let’s stop focusing on gun control, mental health and media violence…those are all external fixes to an internal problem. All meaningful transformation and change, that makes a lasting difference, has to come from the inside out.