One of my Twitter followers sent me a note asking if I were going to write anything about the recent tragic events in Santa Barbara, California. Originally, I had no intention of doing so but his request called me to revisit that decision. What follows are my thoughts today on this heartbreaking matter.

First off, my heart and sympathy go out to all the individuals who were impacted by these very sad occurrences. This includes not only those who lost their lives or were physically harmed — their friends and family — but also the family of the very disturbed young man who instigated the tragedy. Most of us can only imagine the heartbreak you all are experiencing.

A little over a year ago, I wrote a five-part series on the topic of America’s violence. Here are links to those articles:

America’s Violence: Guns Are Only a Symptom

America’s Violence: The Real Problem

America’s Violence: How Did We Get Here?

America’s Violence: Thoughts on First Steps to the Solution

America’s Violence: Thoughts on Higher Steps to Our Solution

Those articles – which I reread in writing this article and I hope you will take the time to read – still reflect my beliefs around the real cause and the solution to America’s problem with violence – including the events this past week in Santa Barbara. The essence of those articles is that: (1) although I agree we need to institute better controls on access to guns, that debate distracts us from our real problem; (2) our real problem is that we don’t feel bonded to other humans; (3) our lack of feeling connected to other humans stems from forces in our evolutionary animalistic past as well as the pace and complexity of modern life; (4) our real solution comes through our seeking ways to increase our sense of connectedness to other people; and (5) this includes ensuring that every human being has their basic needs met as well as the opportunity to stretch towards becoming all they can be in their lifetime.

In essence, we have ingrained within our DNA and our culture forces which cause us to see that other humans “out there” are separate and apart from us and that our survival depends upon our success in competing with these “others”. We may have care and concern for a few of these people who are in our personal circle, but everyone else beyond our immediate group are melded together within our awareness as some great “lump of humanity”. Unfortunately, many of us begin to see those people outside our personal circles not as human beings with feelings and aspirations just like us – but rather as “objects” to be manipulated, controlled and subjugated to our personal desires.

Although I have seen some of the media coverage of the tragic events in Santa Barbara, I have not immersed myself in all of the details. Hence, my thoughts here are simply what has come up for me having heard only the basics of the story. In listening I have asked myself, what can we learn from this tragedy that would move us in a positive direction so as to reduce the likelihood of similar distressing situations in the future? Here are a few suggestions which each could have been an article in and to itself. You can probably come up with more ideas.

Lesson for Our Parental Training – Emphasize Relationships over Material Wealth

Most parents love their children and want them to be successful in life. We want to do everything within our power to ensure that our children have the best opportunity to succeed in modern life. What does that success look like? For most parents, the emphasis is upon obtaining sufficient material wealth. The path to wealth in most parents’ minds goes like this – get good grades in school, get into the best college, choose a career path with a financial payoff, graduate and get a good job that pays a lot of money.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with encouraging our children to move towards financial success in life. The issue becomes when we overemphasize the importance of material success to the degree that we don’t teach our children the importance of developing emotionally connecting relationships with other people. In fact, many children are taught to see other people as competitors for the limited resources in the world. They instill within these young minds that they must “win” at the expense of others who must “lose”.

Most parents don’t receive any substantial training in “how to parent”. Most parents don’t think too much about how they parent or what they are trying to instill within their children. The irony is this – many of these adults go to work each day where their organization holds forth a statement of their mission and purpose, a vision as to what they are trying to accomplish in the world, and an action plan to accomplish it. Much thought and effort went into creating these plans for the organization’s success and direction. Most parent’s work lives are directed by such thoughtful and advance planning.

Yet at home, these parents hold an even more important role — developing mentally healthy children who will be a part of a healthy society — yet generally put much less conscious  thought into the highest vision for their children and how they are going to accomplish it. Maybe one lesson we can learn from the recent events is that our society needs to increase its emphasis on parental training. And, such training should include consideration of what would be in the highest and best interest for our children as they grow into adults. That vision should include having all children develop a healthy sense of connectedness to not only their families and friends but also to all humans everywhere. The development of this healthy level of empathy, care and concern should be emphasized even more than material success.

Lesson for Our Educational System – Teach Empathy over the “Common Core”

The other major source of influence upon our youth is our educational system. What are we teaching in our schools? The current emphasis is upon math and science over other subjects. This prioritization also includes an overemphasis upon testing our children upon a consistent set of questions. We have deemphasized the importance of teaching “how to think” over ensuring that our children all are taught the same set of “what to think”. Currently that standard set of what to think is reflected in the “common core” standards emphasized by our Department of Education. States wanting to receive federal funding for their schools must comply with these federal standards.

But this system of standards overemphasizes “facts” over relationships. Schools push upon children the same worldview as parents – an emphasis on external grades, learning facts to pass the tests, seeing worldly success depending upon mastering external competition with others. Consider this – in our schools, how many hours a day do our children study math and science versus how many hours a day do they spend learning how to relate to their fellow students? Where are the classes on developing empathy for others? When are our children taught how to act in an ethical manner with others? When are they tested on getting along with other people?

What we focus upon is what we grow in our lives. Maybe one of the lessons we can learn from the recent events is that if we truly wish to develop strong bonds among humans, then we need to direct more energy in our educational system towards that vision.

Lesson for Our Media – Emphasize the Humanness of Women over Their Being “Sexual Objects”

Taken to the extreme, our lack of feeling bonded to others leads us into seeing them as physical objects rather than human beings. We must recognize that every person everywhere has feelings, desires, hopes, dreams and ambitions for their life. Every person everywhere seeks autonomy – the ability to direct their own lives. Every person everywhere seeks to have their basic needs met so they can focus upon their higher needs to work upon becoming all they can be in this lifetime. Yet, when we see other people as objects we tend to forget that within their consciousness are the same needs and desires that we have. We may all be unique, but at our essence we are all alike.

Humanity’s history has been dominated by men. Men long considered women inferior and frequently dictated to women what their roles could be. One of those roles was to become the object of the man’s physical sexual needs. Fortunately, we have made great strides in lifting up women to having more equal rights and opportunities with men but we still have a ways to go to reach true equality. Yet most men still have built within them a natural sexual attraction for women. These desires can lead to objectification of women. Their desires can lead them to forgetting the truth that these women are also human beings who have their own desires and rights.

Some of the statements made by the young man in Santa Barbara who instigated the violence showed him to be fixated upon his not having sexual relations and feeling spurned by the young women around him. His statements indicated (in my opinion) that he felt somehow “entitled” to receiving love and sex and blamed all women for his not receiving it. It appeared that he believed that women were objects who were supposed to meet his needs rather than their being real live people. (Again, this is simply my perception and I am open to the fact that I may be incorrect here.)

Recently, Time Magazine (May 26, 2014 issue) did an article on a crisis in our colleges – we are having an epidemic of young women being raped by young men on our campuses. One in five undergraduate female students are the victim of sexual assault while in college. The article quoted one male student describing their process  about how they found their victims and used alcohol to get them drunk and then take advantage of them. My feeling in reading that article was very similar to the quotes from the young man in Santa Barbara. Somehow these men have adopted a belief that the young women around them are somehow not worthy of being shown respect as a human being but are rather objects to be manipulated for their own sexual needs. It’s all really very sad.

Somehow men need to balance their sexual desires with the greater realization that women are human beings that deserve the same respect and treatment that they expect for themselves. This belief needs to be instilled through our parenting, our education and our media.

I think most of us would agree that our media knows that “sex sells”. Our attention naturally gravitates to programs and advertisements that are “sexy”. Although I could write at length about this, I will simply point out that it is my opinion that there is an unintended consequence of this use of sex by the media to get our attention – it tends to reinforce in men’s minds that women are simply sexual objects.

I’m not sure what we can do here. I’m no prude, I’m not looking for censorship nor any returned to some past when sexual matters were taboo topics. However, I do think that another thing we can learn from the recent events (both in Santa Barbara and on our campuses) is that there is this epidemic of the dehumanization of women and that much of our social system’s messaging unintentionally serves to foster it.  We need to correct this.

Conclusion

The violence which came out of Santa Barbara this past week certainly breaks our heart. Most of us wonder how many more of these tragedies must we experience before we come together and agree on steps to repair what’s broken within our society. I have no doubt that we will hear more calls for gun control and other similar steps. But I would ask us to move beyond those symptoms and to truly consider how we can shift our consciousness away from seeing other people as separate objects to manipulate and control, how we can shift our consciousness away from a belief that our time here in life is only about material success, how we can shift our consciousness away from accepting violence by humans towards other humans as a natural state of affairs.

We are all spiritual beings having this human experience. We are all learning lessons in our time here on earth. We are all being called to realize that we are all birthed from the same divine source. May this tragedy and any others which may occur serve to shift our awareness back to our connectedness, back to our oneness. May the power of love be embedded in all our events and in the deepest levels of our personal awareness.

Love and blessings,

Mark Gilbert

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Check out all of Mark Gilbert’s books—available at Amazon. Click here to visit his Author Page. This includes his recent one Our Spiritual Rights and Responsibilities. In this book, he offers what he suggests are the 5 basic rights we all possess by virtue of our being these spiritual beings on planet Earth — and our 2 responsibilities we all hold in relation to one another! Check it out!