I know these things seem unrelated but I don’t believe they are. They, too, feel like intractable problems but I don’t believe that either.
•A man climbs into his car with his estranged wife and their children and drives them all into a lake.
•An eight-year-old boy is found hanging in his closet after being bullied.
•A man returns to his former workplace and starts firing at will.
•A teen girl kills her girlfriend and then herself in the school courtyard when she learns their relationship is over.
•A husband beats his wife to death and she becomes one of the approximately 1,800 women in the U.S. who die every year in the quiet, constant killing that stems from domestic violence.
•A man walks into a public place and starts shooting. This act, once thought the sole dominion of the mentally ill and ideological terrorists, having become a part of the public consciousness, is a growing choice of the distraught.
• A powerful authority figure is alone in a room with a young man and gropes him.
These things appear far-flung and unrelated. After all, mass shootings are individual bursts of horror we can’t anticipate. Domestic violence is a private thing that we don’t see until the worst has already happened. Bullying is just how things go, a rite of passage as old as time. Sexual harassment and assault are the hallmark of a perverted few. They certainly have no common cause, no less a common solution.
Or do they?
I believe there is a shared thread that, if pulled, will unravel this tapestry of destructive behavior. These behaviors are, at their core, emotional outbursts or self-involved acts protected by cultural norms. Power, control, lack of empathy, low self-esteem, unhealthy gender norms: they are the Root Causes that underlie all of these things.
You put someone who suffers from a sense of powerlessness in the life a person with low self-esteem, you get controlling and abusive behavior. You tell a man obsessed with control that his wife is leaving and the odds of him killing her go way up. Put a young man or woman alone in a room with a powerful person who lacks empathy and you get unwanted sexual advances. Find someone who’s angry, isolated and feeling feeble, expose him to the idea of killing en mass as a way to regain his power and you get … well, too many examples to list.
We are suffering from individual, yet continual, emotional catastrophes. We’re watching what happens when people become undone by their lack of power or a damaged sense of self. We’re seeing the effects of a society estranged from one another lobbing ever-escalating emotional tirades at each other on-line. All the while domestic violence continues to flourish in homes of those who struggle with issues of power and control.
Though it is almost impossible to spot the subtle red flags of these individual affective acts right before they happen we can address their root causes in a way that makes them less likely to occur.
If we change the way we deal with how we feel – if we re-evaluate and address cultural norms related to power and control – if we actively address our eroding sense of empathy and respect for others we can uproot the causes of emotional upheavals that inspire both abuse and lethal outbursts.
I know, it sounds like a herculean task but we have faced and cleared such hurdles before. It occurs when we, as a society, decide we are going to change what we teach the next generation. There was a time when nobody wore seat belts. Now everybody does because of a conscious, targeted effort to make that happen. The same goes for smoking. We decided, as a whole, to target a generation of young people to change habitual behavior and we succeeded.
We need to do that in an effort to address this emotional tsunami as well.
BLOOM365’s vision is safe and healthy relationships for all. It seeks to address the root causes of abuse and violence early and with an entire generation. BLOOM365 partners with K-12 schools and community based youth organizations to give young people the knowledge, skills and confidence to prevent abusive behaviors. And, through peer to peer mobilization, we activate young people to create an environment in which empathy, respect, kindness, consent, equality and peace are socially accepted norms.
We enter schools and deliver a seven-dose program over the course of seven consecutive school days in which we walk them through the signs of healthy and unhealthy relationships. We encourage them to challenge social norms that allow such behaviors to thrive. Then we leave with a Bloom Crew in place to re-inforce the new ideas we foster.
BLOOM365 works. Its methodology has been studied and determined effective. Bloom365 is not only important because of the groundwork it lays for healthy relationships moving forward; it intervenes in real time for those children who are currently suffering abuse or, equally important, showing signs of becoming an abusive person.
At every – not some – but every school we’ve been in we’ve run into teens in abusive relationships. Sometimes we are approached by victims who didn’t realize that what was happening to them was wrong. “Now I know,” one young lady said, “that my boyfriend should not be going through my closet telling me what I can and cannot wear.” Another said, “My boyfriend won’t let me have any friends and he won’t let me go anywhere without him. He said it was because he loved me so much. Now I see that’s not what it is.”
BLOOM365 doesn’t just help victims it also identifies potential perpetrators. One young man stood up during the program and said, “You know that empathy thing you’re talking about? Well, I don’t have any of that.” He’s a young man with whom we worked to bring him into the fold. Another said he was going to kill myself, the guy that did that thing to him and everybody he told who didn’t believe him. He, too, was encircled and cared for.
BLOOM365 is trying to affect cultural norms. We are trying to make the ongoing, conscious creation of an emotionally able, empathetic society the standard. It should be something we all engage in as a part of basic education.
Is this a quick and easy answer? Will it stem the tide tomorrow? Are the long-term results of our efforts easily quantifiable? The answer to these questions is a resounding no. The absence of an easy fix, however, should not prompt us to simply shrug our shoulders and walk away.
Tomorrow’s casualty count, the next wave of #MeToo hashtags and the extent of our children’s exposure to domestic violence all depend on what we do today. Our success won’t be obvious but you can see the process at work. Who knows what that boy with the list may have done had we not caught him in time? It’s just a story that did not happen. All of our victories will look like that.
It is a daunting but doable task that will only work if we all get on board. We should pursue this as if our lives depend upon it, because, if you think about it, one day, they might.