Merry Christmas, Marysville and Arlington. Each December 25th, much of our world celebrates the long-ago birth of a child who championed a way of life that so inflamed movers and shakers that they had him killed. He had preached a kind of peace that springs from doing simple acts of kindness that have little connection with riches and power. Trouble is, aside from some odd individuals who never fit in with socioeconomic progress, it’s never seriously been tried.
So here we are again, celebrating the birth of the Prince of Peace, along with other seasonal traditions. And then a maniac mowed down children and teachers in a hail of gunfire in Newtown, Conn. Peace on earth, good will toward men. We could use more of that considering the 80 shootings that have terrorized schools since Columbine.
By now, most of us wish the painful inspection of the Sandy Hook massacre would be over. Be careful what you wish for because if we do silently close the book on it without bold and effective resolution, there will be more killing—because we did nothing.
Legislators have been inundated with calls for new gun laws—as though that might put a stop to the problem. The problem is that we are a violent people. In the period during which 6,000 troops lost their lives in Middle East conflicts, 100,000 died violent deaths here at home. By most measures, the United States is the most violent nation on the planet.
One in six youths between the ages of 10 and 17 has seen or knows someone who has been shot. Children under 18 were 244 percent more likely to be killed by guns in 1993 than in 1986 and that percent has continued to rise. Violent crime has increased almost 600 percent since 1960. This is the background for what happened at Sandy Hook.
We embrace violence. Among the video games youngsters will get for Christmas will be Gears of War, God of War, Scarface, Grand Theft Auto, Fallout, Fallout New Vegas and Dead Space. The object in these games is to kill before getting killed. By sending virtual bullets into virtual adversaries, young players learn to kill. They repeat it over and over until young hands reflexively pull triggers at imagined threats.
As young brains take shape from hours of playing Grand Theft Auto, they develop mental reflexes that, when acted out in the real world, are anything but play. Time spent with violent video games is rehearsal for killing. Though the games depict fantasy worlds, too many players are incapable of drawing a line between fantasy and reality. Put real guns in their hands and they are predisposed to kill.
Have you noticed the increase in young men opting for, or at least considering, military service or law enforcement, occupations where they can carry weapons openly? Camo, or camouflage clothing that copies battle fabrics has become high fashion. Our government’s ambitions for global control spawn violence in far places, all the time glorifying war and weaponry. The local Cabela’s publicized its grand opening with a couple of pages of hand-gun ads. A Christmas ad from Big 5 Sporting Goods, “Great gifts at low doorbuster prices,” listed a Colt semi-automatic assault rifle for $499.95. Peace on earth, good will toward men.
One 10-year-old study found that the average child watched 8,000 televised murders and 100,000 acts of violence before finishing elementary school. Yet television programmers claim there’s no connection between televised imagery and human behavior. Is that so? Then the TV industry should refund billions of advertising dollars to sponsors.
Two Surgeon General reports linked violence on television with aggressive behavior in children. What’s more, the National Institute of Mental Health found overwhelming evidence that excessive TV violence spills over into playgrounds and streets. One NIMH study of 732 children showed aggression, conflicts with parents, fighting and delinquency all correlating with the amount of television watched.
The Sandy Hook disaster could just as easily have happened in Marysville or Arlington since the roots of violence are planted deep here, too. While TV analysts point fingers at guns as the cause, we know better. We are a violent people. Most of us manage to keep it under control but not all. As Dr. Phil once said, fantasies are okay. Just don’t let them invade your reality. He could have just as well been addressing young people’s violent fantasies that injure or kill when acted out in the real world.
This Christmas, we’ll soon be unwrapping material gifts when the gift this world needs most is freedom from fear and want. Call it Peace on Earth. It seems odd that while we celebrate the birth of one who condemned violence, we choose to do so little to cut it off at its roots.
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