Violence in America

The United States has a history of violence: our country began with a war, and was settled by forcibly removing native people from their land. The right of ordinary citizens to keep and bear arms was established in 1791 and has not been changed or removed. We consider football our favorite sport. This primitive urge to violence is based on earlier frontier necessity, but the frontier was closed over one hundred years ago, and the need to keep and bear arms is simply no longer there, rather, it has become detrimental. It seems to me that in the U.S. there is much less threat of national invasion than there is of personal armed assault, and the news bears this out.

Mass shootings occur every day on average, and that doesn’t include the usual daily gun violence in the U.S., where fewer than four people are shot at a time. As of 3 December 2015, there were more mass shootings than days in 2015.

Despite only accounting for five percent of the global population, an astounding 31 percent of the world’s mass shootings occur in the U.S.

What does this tell us about how happy we are, about how successful we are? It indicates to me that we have more fear and social incompetence than happiness and success. If we could live in harmony, the need for force of arms would be greatly reduced. To achieve this, we need to move ahead in our thinking, values, and morality. It seems this has been done in Europe, where the statistical trend in violent crime in general as well as homicide specifically has been declining. This is because Europeans enjoy greater moral development and so their focus is on communal well-being rather than individual success.* Americans, however, are less morally developed and have difficulty perceiving that quality of life for all is better than quality of life for a few, with sporadic charity handed down to the poor from above. This sort of arrangement only promotes injustice and oppression and even violence, just so that the 1% can keep what they consider to be theirs.

To further our moral development, we need to heed the teachings of the world’s wisdom traditions, teachings that derive from contemplative practice. As we recall, the practice of meditation has been found to improve grades and reduce violence in schools (please see my post from 16 June 2015), and is generally considered to promote compassion. Expanding empathy can move us away from our violent past and into a peaceful future.

 

Copyright © 2016 Teresa Chupp.  All rights reserved.

 

*Rifkin, J. (2004). The European Dream. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher.

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