© 2016 Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.
Fifty lives lost. Young people, happy people, many LGBT people, many Latino people, a community of people. A time of incredible sadness for us and around the globe. In fact, support for the victims and families poured in from all over. It reminded many people of the coming together of the world after 9/11, before the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. A unity of compassion in a time of grief.
But not everyone was happy that night before the killing. A mentally-ill man with all-or-nothing thinking. All gays were bad in his mind, so he killed anyone dancing in the Pulse club Sunday morning. He didn’t really know who was gay and who wasn’t. All he knew was its “US against THEM” and if I kill THEM then I’m one of US.
That’s apparently why he made a call saying that he had pledged allegiance to ISIS. They would have to accept him – they would have to honor him. But he didn’t really know anyone in ISIS and had apparently pledged allegiance to several violent groups over the past few years – even those who hated each other. To me he sounds clearly to have been a mentally-ill man in search of an identity – any identity – and influenced by the seduction of the Internet and the nightly news. People with all-or-nothing thinking.
At a time like this our nation has two choices:
A) Do we think in the all-or-nothing terms of people-hating? Should US hate THEM? Some say that we have to say the words Radical Islam, or we’re not true Americans. I say that identifying a large group of people as the problem will prevent us from understanding the many parts of the problem – and actually feed the problem. Our US against THEM thinking and loud talking reinforces other people’s “US against THEM” thinking about US.
B) Or do we think in the terms of actual problem-solving? That this isn’t an all-or-nothing problem, and that the solutions aren’t all-or-nothing.
Here is my list of some small solutions:
Stop showing the faces, the names and the rants of mass shooters in the news. Sure, it’s exciting, but it also is training for the next mentally-ill young man who is trying to be important in the world and feels like a failure and can only think of murder-suicide. This makes it a reward to get the mass attention in death that he couldn’t get in life. I don’t care who they pledged allegiance to – they learned that from the news.
I have worked with many mentally-ill young men and they struggle every day, in some cases, to decide whether to live or to die. There is help and that’s what they should see in the news, not the dramatic hysteria of 24/7 coverage of “the shooter” and “what he said.” There is precedent for this, as the news doesn’t report the names of victims of rape and the names of juveniles who have committed crimes.
Restrict automatic weapons. There’s no good reason for anyone to own an AR-15. If you hunt with one, you should be ashamed. And if you own one for self-protection, you should be ashamed. These aren’t part of the solution; they’re part of the problem. These are military weapons and our nation is not at war with itself. To be opposed to any restriction on guns is an all-or-nothing solution. Restricting automatic weapons is a small solution. You can own all the hand guns and rifles you want. Just stop allowing people to buy these military weapons.
I’m one who doesn’t believe that the only way to stop a bad man with an AR-15 is a good guy with an AR-15. I don’t know anyone who thinks that way. That’s like the idea of the arms race of nuclear weapons before the 1980’s, when Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev seriously negotiated their reduction. Mutual Assured Destruction: MAD they called it. This reduction in the arms race was not an all-or-nothing solution. There are still nuclear weapons, just not as many and the world is much safer now.
Keep the conflict small. Speak of the problem in realistic, proportional terms. As a mediator, therapist and lawyer, I have learned that people solve real problems much better by focusing step-by-step on the small aspects rather than viewing problems in largest, all-or-nothing, extreme terms.
In 2002, George W. Bush declared war on an Axis of Evil, which included Iran, Iraq and North Korea. He made the conflict large. At the time, Al Queda was a gang of criminals with about 2000 members hanging out in Afghanistan, where they trained the 9/11 attackers. So he invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, and made the conflict so large in the Middle East that it is still going with little progress even after over a dozen years, including the rise of ISIS. We have to reflect on our part in creating these problems.
Those who would speak of the problem as Radical Islam are making the same mistake. There are approximately 1 billion members of the Islamic faith around the world, with an extremely small percentage involved in violence. The actions of last Sunday morning’s killer and the other mass shooters in recent years have been perpetrated by the mentally ill and criminals. To treat them as representing a larger group is to increase the likelihood of more mass shootings. After all, when we make the conflict large, others will too – especially the mentally ill and criminals.
The lesson we need to learn from Sunday’s tragedy is to practice more restraint, not less. All-or-nothing thinking is tempting when we feel fear and anger at people and things we don’t understand. It is the thinking of children and the mentally ill. It’s time to realistically understand and solve the problems of mass shootings like grownups, rather than arguing over which large group to blame.
BILL EDDY, LCSW, ESQ. is the co-founder and chief innovation officer of the High Conflict Institute. He pioneered the High Conflict Personality Theory (HCP) and is viewed globally as the leading expert on managing disputes involving people with high conflict personalities. He is the author of 20+ books and has a popular podcast and a blog on Psychology Today.