Ninety-two. That’s the number of people who die every day in the US from a gun—accidents, murder, suicide. That means 2,000 people died in the US from a gun in just three weeks following the Paris terror attacks. That statistic has remained pretty steady over the past 25 years. In fact, non-accidental deaths by guns have declined since the nineties. The other gun-death statistic that has stayed the same for 25 years is the number of people killed in mass shootings (defined as 4+ deaths). For most people living in the US, the odds of dying from a gun are the same as that of dying in a car accident.* Somehow all these facts don’t relieve my fear and sadness.
Fear and anxiety are as real as statistics. We are shaped by our fear. Researchers who study terror management theory track how our vision narrows and we hold on even tighter to our cultural world views when reminded of our mortality. If we believe guns will keep us safe, we get more committed to this belief after we hear of a terrorist attack. If we believe that Muslims, white supremacists or government are what’s wrong with the world we become more certain of who is to blame after news of an attack.
How Do I Make Sense of the World?
In the face of fear and anger we often can’t see a nonviolent path to freedom and peace. We become fixated on changing the world around us, convinced we know where the problem lies. Things appear worse when the world around us gets worse. How will I feel safe again? How can I be part of positive change in a world that appears to be going backward?
In the midst of chaos and confusion we are best served to first step back and look at the entire system. I like the metaphor of stepping off the dance floor and taking a look at life from the balcony. This helps us broaden our vision and remain neutral or even positive as we ask questions and seek answers. It’s tricky because our minds default to a binary, right/wrong thinking that fails us when we face complex, systemic dilemmas that have no quick resolution.
When mystified by the actions of others ask them or yourself open-ended questions. “How can I deepen my understanding of you in order to comprehend your choices?” “What am I missing here?” is a better approach than “I know this is the answer.” When I look at the big picture and get out of my CEO Mind and relate to the world from my heart I see a lot less separation between me and everyone else. When we look from the balcony at the global human system and its big challenges like climate change, poverty, civil war, and terrorism, we become aware that relatively few are guilty, yet all are responsible.
Change What’s Yours to Change
From this moment on you and I are responsible for how we choose to respond to terrorism. It takes courage to fully experience our emotions and examine our beliefs without letting ourselves be dragged around by our fear and reactivity. It takes courage to keep our hearts open and not succumb to the inevitable psychic numbing that accompanies frequent, visible violence and statistics like nine-two deaths a day.
Freedom starts with the awareness that we wake each morning wearing glasses, the lenses of which shape our reality. We see a world that’s either safe or unsafe. We didn’t don a new pair of glasses on 9/11 or in 2015. If we see a world that’s unsafe now, chances are we saw a world that was unsafe 20 years ago. We don’t voluntarily try on different glasses. Instead we choose to read, listen to, and do things that reinforce our existing world view. We are responsible for how we see the world.
Everyone Just Remain Positive
How do you want to see the world—as safe or unsafe? A close look at evolution and the history of the cosmos and our species often leads people to conclude that the world is moving in a generally positive direction. Faith is what fills the psychological gap between the bad stuff going on now and a future in which good prevails. We are faced with the choice each day of fostering positivity within ourselves.
When we succumb to fear we immediately lose the battle and the war. My prayer is that we continue to evolve in such a way that we stay aware of and connected to our feelings, that we have the courage to show compassion, and that we see a glimpse every now and then of a force that sustains life. We have a shot if we can visit the balcony every so often and find some piece of reality that’s positive every day. I do this through my morning practice of quiet and gratitude. We are all responsible. Each of us can only change what’s ours to change in order to bring about a loving world that our heart knows is possible.
*The Pew Center for Research reported data it collected from the Centers for Disease Control and National Center for Injury Prevention and Control in an October 21, 2015 article on gun homicides. The Small Arms Survey conducted by the Graduate Institute of International and Developmental Studies and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 31.2 deaths per million by guns annually was equal to number of deaths in automobile accidents; in terms of gun homicides, the US ranked third behind El Salvador and Mexico, and ranked very high compared to countries with similar levels of education and GDP to that of the US.