As news of the shooting of Congressman Scalise and others at the GOP Congressional baseball practice rippled throughout the country this week, so too did the shock of yet another mass shooting. Mass shootings are so significant that in 165 days of 2017, there were 154 mass shootings. While gun control is hot topic of discussion, we need to look at an underlying cultural shift that has taken place. Before and since the election, there has been an increase in incidents of hate, intolerance, bullying, and violence. Civility and empathy were once the social priority, and that has become seriously compromised in the United States.
Former Congressman Ron Barber feels this deeply. He was with Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords as a member of her staff when they both were shot in 2001. He then went on to take her seat in Congress to work directly on these issues. He reflected on how the shooting earlier this week took him back to the traumatic day that changed the course of his life in an interview on NPR saying:
“You know, what is happening today, what has happened in our congressional and national politics is a level of vitriol, a level of harsh rhetoric and personal attacks that’s just not good for the country. And I call on everybody from the president on down to encourage and by their behavior show, model what we want to be as a country in terms of our political discourse. We have to be more civil and respectful.”
In talking with Congressman Barber, he also shared “The current toxic political environment encourages violence and we have seen a rise in hate crimes during 2016 and this year too. It was reported that the shooter was motivated by political angst. We condemn his decision to resort to violence for political purposes and his targeting of innocent people. In our great country we express our political positions by the ballot not the bullet.”
Dr. Michael Sulkowski is Assistant Professor, Disability & Psychoeducational Studies with Arizona State University and he shared his thoughts on civility. “When adults model civility, children learn by example. Modeling civility teaches children to treat others with respect and it helps to break down “us versus them” narratives that lead to suspicion, mistrust, and hostility to those who are perceived to be dissimilar.”
Congressman Barber feels similarly about the importance of demonstrating civility – especially to children. Following the shooting he experienced, he started the Fund for Civility, Respect and Understanding where they have a focus on preventing bullying in school and elsewhere. He shared, “Research shows that the best prevention is by peers standing up to stop bullying. To kids everywhere, I would say your voice and actions can stop bullying. It is hard to stand up when you see someone getting bullied, so work together so that you have strength in numbers.”
Dr. Sulkowski spoke of children also, noting “When children feel empathy, they feel understood, appreciated, and respected. They know that it is okay to feel what they are feeling and that they do not need to hide, cover-up, or avoid their emotions.”
Empathy and civility are the most effective ways we can prevent violence with the next generation – but in order to do that, adults need to stand up and model it.
Originally published content from Huffington Post