A New Perspective on Gun Violence
by Leigh-Ann Renz, 2.18.13
Gun Violence and Mental Health
After writing a blog post about the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, I found myself asking family and friends their perspectives on gun laws, societal violence and what seems to be an increase in these types of incidents. The responses ranged from “I cried on and off for 3 days” to “I don’t really have the head space to deal with that type of thing right now; I feel bad for those families, but I just had to shut it out.” However, the common theme I’ve encountered is a sense of resignation, that this is simply the way it is, and we just have to do our best to deal with it.
While on some levels that is true, I was really intrigued to come across an article examining the characteristics of our culture and proposing that what we accept as human nature may actually just be values of our specific society: “Beneath mainstream culture runs a current of domination, individualism, and exclusion that is harming our children. We assume this is normal—but is it really?” Poka Laenui, the executive director of the Wai‘anae Coast Community Mental Health Center in Hawai’i, proposes that while we accept the domination, individualism, and exclusion (DIE) framework of deep US modern society as “normal”, it’s actually one of many natural human realities of interaction.
He contrasts this DIE society with that of ‘Olu‘olu Hawaiin culture: “In Hawai‘i, we express the values of ‘Olu‘olu (compatible, non-conflictive, mellow, comfortable, non-dominating), Lokahi (elevating the importance of family, groups, seeing things with holistic eyes) and Aloha (caring, sharing, inclusiveness, and love). This OLA culture (in Hawaiian, “ola” means life and health) exists not only in Hawai‘i or among Hawaiians. Around the world, there are pockets of OLA. Many families practice it, as do some churches, schools, and social groups. Unfortunately, it stops too often at the borders of those small groups.
“In response to tragic events like the shootings at Sandy Hook, we need to be far more broadly focused than on treatment for autism or more treatment for mental illness. We need to see beyond the remedy of weapons control in a civil society. The very deep culture of DIE itself must be replaced with OLA culture (however one chooses to express it). There is no better mental health treatment for a child than the loving embrace of the child’s community. From that starting environment, the child’s challenges as well as gifts are addressed.
“If we understand the broader framework before us, we can have a better common appreciation of the depth of change to be made. Knowing that others are already practicing a culture of life and health, we need not feel so isolated in our work. That knowledge is the foundation of long and deep change in our society.” Laenui’s perspective was a refreshing, hopeful and markedly different angle than any other I have heard thus far. It’s definitely food for thought as we as a nation, and especially those of us in the mental health industries, continue to come to terms with this complex and multi-layered issue.