In the wake of tragic shootings in Atlanta, Georgia, and Boulder, Colorado, America once again stands in front of the mirror questioning how this continues to happen in our society and what to do to prevent it. How we react, how we engage and the way we discuss solutions, prevention and protections (of rights and responsibilities) matters and will ultimately make the difference for the future. 

Jenny Howe is a counselor I regularly turn to for insight, not just for what is happening, but for how to talk about difficult issues, especially with our children and teenagers. Howe joined me on my KSL News Radio show this week for a crucial conversation.

I went back to something Howe penned for Deseret News following the shooting in El Paso, Texas, in 2019. She wrote, “Our hearts are breaking in this country and we are afraid. We feel a loss of control, so we take our neurological bias and search for meaning, sometimes ending in justification, blame and projection of fear. When we are afraid, the most primal parts of our human spirit rise to protect us; our brain recognizes the threat and shuts down what it considers to be nonessential process. This includes a shutdown of our executive functioning system and basic sense of cognitive reasoning. Therefore, it makes sense, neurologically, that we are reactionary rather than responsive, irrational rather than reasoned with and attack oriented rather than cohesive.”

The Boulder shooting can change the nation, just as a murder 37 years ago changed me
Guest opinion: The country's hearts are broken, but we can change things

Howe is a master guide, counselor and clinician driven to challenging fixed mindsets and encouraging values-driven growth. She often shares, “We can allow our fears or our values to drive our decisions, regardless of predisposition. We can talk about how we feel and use that emotional energy to act with assertion and purpose. We can encourage solution-oriented dialogue from all perspectives with focus on values-driven solutions rather than political talking points. We can prevent. We can change.”

Change will begin individually, in our homes and in our communities. Sadly, politicians wasted no time this week transforming these two tragedies into partisan political battles over Second Amendment rights and government regulation. We have become accustomed to, and far too comfortable with, this approach to problems in America. Grandstanding, fundraising and false choices have replaced reason, compromise and community driven solutions.

We can, and must, recognize that we can debate reasonable, constitutional regulation and the social acceptance of violence in movies, media and video games in America. We can have important discussions about mental health and review loopholes in laws that may put weapons in the hands of those who might harm themselves or others. We can ensure law-abiding citizens who hunt have their rights protected and we can talk about a culture of hate, bigotry, prejudice and contempt that dehumanizes those with whom we disagree.

It all begins with the principle of valuing human life and the vastly different people who make up communities and the country. It is important to remember that no one has ever effectively legislated values into the lives of people by focusing solely on behavior. It is vitally important that we raise awareness about negative behaviors such as discrimination, hate crimes, abuse and causes of tragic mass shootings. Yet, change will only be brought about when the values of acceptance, understanding, self-control, empathy and valuing the differences in others become part of the moral fabric of our society.

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When talking about the often easier to measure control of outward behavior, we keep ourselves far distant from the enlightening and empowering element of principles and values.

Hurricanes, protests and mass shootings — what is the antidote for fear?

Where there is a void in values, laws and legislation will not deter bad behavior. Where values are valued, laws and legislation may lend strength, certainty and security.

In such discussions I often use commonplace examples of how principles and values are the only sure way to ensure positive behavior. We may wish to have our children portray the outward behavior of being quiet or using a soft voice when in a synagogue, church or at a national monument. However, this behavior will never be manifest until the values of reverence and respect have been instilled. We may understand the behaviors of daily exercise, diet moderation and nutrition, but until we understand the power of the values of energy, health and vitality, we will continue to be a nation of yo-yo dieters. We may even wish to legislate and control the behaviors of providing welfare for the underprivileged, yet until the values of work, self-reliance and more importantly, helping and serving others are lived by individuals, communities and nations, the poor and needy will forever remain needy and poor.

I began by writing, “In the wake” of a tragic shooting. We will continue to be not only in the wake of tragedy but drowning in the propwash of political posturing until we embrace the idea that principles and values are the critical conversation starter that will launch the beginning of better behavioral days.

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