It's crowd time again in America. Our biggest shopping period is fast approaching; we're also in the middle of football season, and New Year celebrations are nearly around the corner. To say nothing of increased traffic as we drive from place to place.

What should be a joyful time will be just the opposite for some people; with end-of-the-year layoffs, people might be losing their jobs or having their hours cut back; perhaps a foreclosure is looming, funds for satisfying children's desires may be limited, and bills will be coming in.

So, as each of the celebratory events includes large crowds and heavy traffic, they converge with some frustrated, angry, alienated, desperate feeling individuals -- the perfect scenarios for shooters, seeing no other option than to use guns to vent their feelings as they end their lives. People may also increasingly resort to impulsive shootings in order to resolve differences. It's time go into Rehab, in order to get us back to a more peaceful society.

Unfortunately, we have no rehabilitation center qualified and able to accommodate the hugely significant number of Americans who should enter; therefore, putting ourselves in 'rehab' will help us to return our culture to some of the supportive communal qualities we used to enjoy before technology, violence and extremism became such enormous influences on us; we need to reduce alienation and improve our communication skills in order to relearn how to resolve issues non-violently.

Here in America, according to Ann Hornaday, film critic of the Washington Post, the number of violent films given the PG-13 rating has tripled. As children are inundated with movies, video games and other sources of violent behavior, parents and other mentors need to balance the emphasis on violence with conversations to put it in perspective. We need to teach them critical thinking and non-violent conflict resolution skills, says Hornaday on CNN's Reliable Sources (Nov. 17).

We have created a culture of extremism, based on winning (in which case, someone must lose); we tend to see issues as black or white, right or wrong, good or bad -- without shades of gray. We attack rather than listen. Most issues, however, have components on which both sides can agree, and when we're open to searching for them, we can begin to convert the extreme beliefs to manageable ones for everyone. Also, when people are feeling desperate, we can help them to find solutions. Thus, all sides win.

We can't depend on the Government to fix our cultural problems; no legislation can guarantee our safety from guns and other forms of violence, but you and I can go a long way toward alleviating some of the stress, as we realize that some forms of mental illness are probably situational, resulting from feelings of alienation and desperation.

ALIENATION
Extremism, coupled with our dependence on technology, has contributed to a society of individuals, who may begin to feel alienated -- alone, left out. When we are not socially available to them, we may be generating feelings of isolation in our family members and friends who, instead of turning to us to communicate life difficulties, may turn to social media, conferring with strangers. It's a perfect setup for trouble.

Do you remember the hugely popular film, Avatar? The universal greeting for the creatures was, "I see you." How many of us actually see each other? Do we look into people's eyes to see what might be behind their "I'm fine" when you meet them? Do we actually listen to their viewpoints, opposite from ours perhaps, or do we just wait for their statements to end so that we can counter them, trying to win the disagreement?

Feeling alienated has led to a number of shootings, according to psychologists. Desperation, loneliness and helplessness are all feelings that, at least some, shooters have experienced. Before people reach the level of wanting to end it all and take some others out with them, perhaps they need to know that we see them. Together, we can find solutions.
When we turn off our technologic devices, we can turn our attention to the people around us. As we engage them, we begin to restore their feelings of acceptance, inclusion.

Most of us can't solve the employment-related financial problems and insecurities some people will experience, but we can ease them somewhat by reducing the perception that money can buy inclusion, validation. When we reach out to our neighbors and friends, letting them know we have time for them, we show them we can see them, and hear them. We can also realize and convey that buying expensive gifts isn't necessary; rather, experiences we share are much more meaningful than giving material gifts because then we are giving the best we have - our time and attention.

Food is a universal connector, around which revolve celebrations, milestone markings, sorrow, and just ordinary events - the cycles of life. We can reach out to our neighbors, connecting, with dinners and other social activities, as we do in my neighborhood. We recently enjoyed a luncheon to welcome two Syrian ladies who recently moved here to live with their brother (and began volunteer work in the community a month after arriving). Through our gathering and their charitable activities, we hope they have begun to feel a sense of place here.

This month our neighbors will hold a pre-Thanksgiving dinner in which everyone will bring a dish reflective of our ethnic heritage. It will be good to remember the strengths, sacrifices and determination of those gone before, and those newly arrived, that have enabled so many of us to live as freely as we do.

COMMUNICATION SKILLS
Before we get to the stage of uncontrolled rage, and when we see others building up their anger, what can we do to relieve the pressure? Infuriating, unfair, and unjust things will happen to us and to people we love. Is it road rage that gets us? Or getting fired 'unjustly', a disagreement, betrayal or what? How do we deal with these things without going off the deep end? Improved communication skills can help to see us through such bad times.

Of course, we have to use common sense, as well. For example, with comparatively small incidents such as someone on the road cutting in front of us, we can leave more distance between the car in front and ours. We reduce stress by not tailgating, and by treating other drivers as we would like to be treated.

Anger management training, perhaps accompanied by meditation can be a good beginning. And we can develop a variety of verbal and non-verbal skills, such as active listening, to let others know we get them, whether we agree or not.

We can develop conflict resolution and negotiation skills, and guide others in them. Including these latter skills in the toolkit for effective communication can, in many cases, be the formula for neutralizing potentially violent situations.

Changing our society won't happen overnight, but it's well worth the effort, time and perseverance to shift to a culture in which we really include each other, and express ourselves nonviolently. This is what I mean by putting ourselves in Rehab.

The gift we will give ourselves from the results of our efforts will be an increased feeling of safety as we move among crowds, and a more solid, cohesive society in which we can realize and acknowledge that all is not black-and-white, right-or-wrong, hopeless or not. We will see the common ground of all sides, and experience more of a feeling of community as we work together to resolve issues and move our society ahead to a more healthier, more acceptable level.




 


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