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How to Leave a “Columbine-World” Behind

Robert A Saul MD shares with us that, in a democratic society, citizens have a duty to each other.

Back in 1993, I started my introspective journey into community involvement.

I heard 12 words that had a profound impact on my life. “For anything that happens in our community,” health care futurist Leland Kaiser stated, “each of us as individuals and our society as a whole need to say, ‘I am the problem, I am the solution, I am the resource.’”

Those were pretty simple words, but the message was powerful for me.

I have to take personal ownership in the issues in my community  (I am the problem), I have to work with my fellow citizens (I am the solution), and I need to be willing to devote my continuing energies to the community (I am the resource).

Those 12 words became my mantra and catapulted me headfirst into community activities.

 

Then April 20, 1999 happened.

Two teenagers entered a high school in Littleton, Colorado (Columbine High School) and murdered 13 people and killed themselves.

 

Then April 20, 1999 happened. Two teenagers entered a high school in Littleton, Colorado (Columbine High School) and murdered 13 people and killed themselves. Click To Tweet

 

How can that occur in a civil society that cherishes its children and boasts of its democratic principles?

Citing evil and blaming mental health is a cop-out in my estimation when so many trouble signs have existed, and we have chosen to ignore them or shift the blame to others.

 

In a democratic society, citizens have a duty to each other.

Citizens (should) care about other.

Citizens (should) care for each other.

Citizens (should) take actions that nurture each other.

Citizens (should) recognize that our actions affect others so the reactions to our actions need to be considered whenever we act or do something.

If hate exists in someone’s heart, it is up to us, to the best of our ability, to seek common ground and stop the cycle of hate and reaction to hate.

 

In a democratic society, citizens have a duty to each other. Citizens (should) care about others. Citizens (should) care for each other. Click To Tweet

 

In the preceding paragraph, you will notice all of the “shoulds” in parentheses.

Typically when one gives instructions, there is often a distinction between “must” and “should.”  “Must” means some action or actions that are mandatory and absolutely necessary, and “should” is usually one level below “must.”

 

Citizens (should) take actions that nurture each other.

 

Actions that should occur will hopefully occur and make a difference.  It would be nice if those “shoulds” would be replaced with “musts” when we discuss the words and actions of citizens.

 

The “shoulds” and “musts” reflect the need for empathy.

Isabel Wilkerson, in her book CASTE, notes that “empathy is not sympathy…empathy is not pity…empathy is commonly viewed as putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and imaging how you would feel.

That could be seen as a start, but that is little more than role-playing, and it is not enough in the ruptured world that we live in.”

 

Empathy, with a twist, is what citizens should/must practice.

I really like Ms. Wilkerson’s extension of empathy into radical empathy.

She explains that “radical empathy…means putting in the work to educate oneself and to listen with a humble heart to understand another’s experience from their perspective, not as we imagine we would feel.

 

Those 12 words became my mantra and catapulted me headfirst into community activities.

 

Radical empathy is not about you and what you think you would do in a situation you have never been in and perhaps never will.

It is the kindred connection from a place of deep knowing that opens your spirit to the pain of another as they perceive.”

Radical empathy is so much more meaningful.

 

Radical empathy is not about you and what you think you would do in a situation you have never been in and perhaps never will. It is the kindred connection from a place of deep knowing that opens your spirit to the pain of another as… Click To Tweet

 

Yet these are painful times.

We have had hundreds of shootings since Columbine.  It is hard to single out any one since they are all tragic.

The racist targeting in AME Emmanuel Church in Charleston SC and Buffalo NY and the elementary school murders in Newtown CT and Uvalde TX remind us that we have so far to go if we are going to assume some communal responsibility for these actions.

Let’s change the pronoun in our 12-word mantra. If we substitute “we” for “I,” we now have “we are the problem, we are the solution, we are the solution.”

 

Let’s change the pronoun in our 12-word mantra. If we substitute 'we' for 'I,' we now have 'we are the problem, we are the solution, we are the solution.' Click To Tweet

 

Indeed, if we are committed to protecting our vulnerable citizens and precious children, we have to get engaged in the solutions accepting our joint responsibilities.

Finger-pointing and blaming others does little to get us close to viable solutions.

 

We are now over twenty-three years post Columbine.

My journey continues.

I realize that I can make a difference.

I hope we can all make a difference.

The twelve words now read – We are the problem, we are the solution, we are the resource.

 

My journey continues. I realize that I can make a difference. I hope we can all make a difference. The twelve words now read – We are the problem, we are the solution, we are the resource. Click To Tweet

 

We can change our communities, one neighbor and one neighborhood at a time.  It is not the traditional role as a physician – or is it?

The more I think about it, it is.

 

We are now over twenty-three years post Columbine.

 

It is absolutely my (our) job!

We have the opportunity to help “heal” the mind and body of our community in addition to our patients.

I look forward to this on-going journey and encourage your participation.

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