A dear friend of mine, who knows that I write articles, said: “There was another shooting in the US. What about an article relating to this?”
My field is economics, so I initially felt hesitant—but I reminded myself about the many years I worked in the school system, where my first and foremost responsibility was protecting my precious students from the usual dramas and bullying.
I told my friend that I would try, so this is my attempt to share what is in my heart about these horrible mass shootings.
At the outset, I admit that I don’t have all the solutions. I’m uncomfortable even tackling the subject, due to its explosive and political nature, the emotions it evokes and especially my personal experience with violence. Also, as a Baha'i, I will not insert myself into the party politics that have become so tied up in this issue. But these horrific killings must stop, so let’s see if we can come up with some starting points.
We have to remember these mass shooters—these killers of children—did not come from the moon or other planets. They were and are our kids, our students, our neighbours, our cousins, even our friends. Many of them were almost invisible to us but yet they existed, and most of us missed the signs of their struggles. We failed to see how ill-equipped they were to deal with the realities around them, and as a consequence we did not help them.
As you can already see, I want to take a self-examining approach first and foremost, although there are other contributing factors. I believe we spend very little time exploring our own roles in this crisis, and consequently we don’t do enough to discover how we can empower ourselves to do our part in avoiding these tragedies.
There are things we can do as individuals. We can pay attention to those who are ignored or bullied or ostracized, we can show them that we care, we can build alternative activities that allow them some respite from their negative environments, we can connect them to positive, welcoming people and courses and group activities. For example, we can connect them with youth activities that focus on spiritual exploration and on serving the community. There are countless things we could do if we cared enough and loved enough.
The Baha'i teachings ask us to love everyone, because God in His wisdom knows that love is the real solution. Abdu’l-Baha, who exemplified love all his life through his actions, said:
“Love gives life to the lifeless. Love lights a flame in the heart that is cold. Love brings hope to the hopeless and gladdens the hearts of the sorrowful. In the world of existence, there is indeed no greater power than the power of love.” – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p.179.
When I worked in the school system, I had some sleepless nights worrying about some of the kids who were so full of anger and frustration that I was afraid that they might do some harm to themselves or others. You might ask: Why were those students so hurt and angry? I would say because they were not getting enough love, care and attention. Most of them were deeply lonely, believing strongly that nobody understood them or cared about them. They craved love, but what they were getting was anger, punishment and disciplinary rules that aimed to set them right without addressing the root cause of their problems.
I am not trying to portray the mass shooters as innocent victims. I am fully aware that there are complex issues involved and deeply rooted personal as well as societal problems. Yet, in some ways they are, perhaps like you and I, victims of a very common disease, a deficiency in love. In most cases, the essentially spiritual remedy of love can work much more effectively and pre-emptively than legal deterrents, although both are needed.
We could arm more people to protect the schools, install more metal detectors, do more body searches to confiscate weapons, but those approaches would never have more than a limited effect at best. I wish we would also spend time and resources on how, as a society, we can reach out to those angry and hurting individuals before they choose violence.
How can we as human beings lessen the emotional burden of people that may lead them down an awful path? The Baha'i teachings say we can take action to truly begin to address the problem:
“Love manifests its reality in deeds, not only in words—these alone are without effect.” – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 36.
If we cared for and loved all human beings, and did so with deeds rather than words, I believe most of those shooters would choose a different path. I witnessed the drastic change that love and caring made for many of my own students, who I honestly thought might do some harm. In all my years of dealing with troubled kids I learned to look beyond their anger and bad behavior and the barriers they put up in order to not get hurt, because behind all that was usually a scared person who just wanted to be accepted and loved.
Issues such as a lack of proper gun control, easy availability of weapons, violent video games and all the other suspects in this sad affair, are legitimate concerns. But I suggest we also look at ourselves and resolve to befriend the sad and alienated before they become a danger to society.
By being aware of our potential power as a preventive agent in these mass shootings, combined with proper legal prevention measures and reasonable safety precautions, we can dream of a day when these tragedies will be nothing but a bizarre footnote in a sadder and darker period of human history.
Badi Shams is a mystic at heart whose field of interest is in economics. He has published a compilation "Economics of the Future", and also more recently the book "Economics of the Future Begins Today". He is retired from the educational system. You can read more of Badi's materials on his website www.badishams.net
You can read more articles on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking HERE