Dealing With Crime

by Ross Bishop

OK, so someone harms another – steals their property or harms their person. That’s not OK, and cannot go unaddressed. But it’s the next series of steps that gets us into trouble. We go through all this falderal to prove these people are guilty and then throw them into prison, as though that were a solution to the problem.

In truth, we don’t know what to do with them. Crime is a societal issue and cultures have been fighting it for millenia. I doubt if crime can ever be eradicated, but I do believe it can be seriously reduced from the levels we see today. But we have chosen to do the moral equivalent of nothing. We lock convicts up in isolated warehouses – prisons, hoping that somehow, being locked away and “punished”, they will reform. I believe the men who run and administer the criminal justice system also have an abiding faith in the tooth fairy.

Let’s talk about the origins of crime, because our current understanding, or mis-understanding of it underlies our criminal justice system. Stated very simply, crime can be traced to, “Treat a kid badly and he will respond.”

It seems obvious, but the scope of the problem is so broad that it presents a problem for the whole society. Dealing with the origins of crime overwhelms families, politicians, churches and schools. And while each can have a role in preventing and dealing with it, no single social institution reaches broadly enough to encompass the whole problem. And the criminal justice system gets the bitter end, after the good options are largely gone. It is simply the wrong place to introduce meaningful solutions. We need to pay attention to the front end – were the drives that lead to crime are created.

I repeat, “mistreat a child and you’ll pay for it later.” Survey after soreiurvey has shown that the entire prison population – 100% – has been abused, sexually, physically and emotionally. Sexual and physical abuse tends to lead to violent behavior. Emotional abuse tends to produce social deviance – like drug dealers or white collar criminals.

There are exceptions – people who rise above their abuse, but they are just that, exceptions. Nothing could be clearer from the research. The point is, a society doesn’t get a free ride by ignoring what happens to a child. Abuse or neglect him and that abuse will eventually echo back somewhere else in the culture. There is no free lunch. In fact, if we were smart, we’d start paying a lot more attention to the rage and dysfunctional family situations of some of our kids.

Abuse or treat a child violently and his developing brain takes on the perspective that the world is a dangerous and violent place. As a result, he is going to respond! It is simple survival. His inner child, the seat of his emotions is, in most cases, going to react to emotionally challenging situations with violence. His behavior may not be criminal, but when pushed he is likely to become violent.

If he cannot heal his pain, an abused person either internalizes his rage or externalizes it. He may join a gang, become a thief, get into the drug business or in some other way, lash out at the wrongs done to him. He will justify his behavior by the abuse he received as a child and by his denigrated social position. He will want to “get back” at a society/parents he feels wronged him. And, if he belongs to a minority group, he can certainly build a case for racial or ethnic prejudice. His will be the easy way. Compared to honest work, crime is easy money. Mix this with the easy availability of guns with no background checks and you create an explosive situation that is very likely to cost someone, somewhere.

Conversely, if he belongs to the “white elite,” he can compensate for his feelings of inadequacy by creating the appearance of external success. He may internalize his rage by cooking the company books, cheat on environmental regulations, commit insider trading or create a ponzi scheme as a way to get back at dysfunctional parents and a dysfunctional culture. His is not a cry for help. He wants payback, and as I said, he’s going to take the easy way to get it.

The criminal will follow the capitalistic model, after all, crime is simply good business without morality. And with all that money, it’s easy to buy off a politician or a cop who’s lucky to make $25 an hour.

One thing that stands out from the research is how often gang members speak of the gang as “family”. These men and women are looking for something that was not a part of their upbringing, and the gang provides a sense of community, of acceptance, of family and social order; free from the constraints of conventional society. It is not coincidental that gang members refer to each other as “brother” or “sister”.

Returning to the criminal justice system, from any angle except as warehouses, prisons are a complete failure. A prison culture is the absolute worst place to put a human being if one is hoping for any kind of redemption. Prison hardens them, teaches contrary social values and criminal skills to an already aberrant population, supports gang culture and makes heroes out of the very people we are trying the hardest to sanction. Put simply, if you were trying to create the perfect environment to recruit and train criminals, you’d build a prison.

If one were to say publicly, “Let’s create an ideal environment to turn our troubled kids into hardened criminals,” people would be repulsed. But, that is exactly what we do! If you want a clear example of this, the present crop of jihadists we face in the Middle East can be directly traced to the prisons of Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Yemen, Egypt, Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s were al-Qaeda got its start and where to this day, it does much of its recruiting. It’s the same thing for crime in the U.S.

But what’s really interesting is that no one wants to hear that. The cultural shift it would entail would change Western culture. We would have to go back to the kind of tribal culture where the community guides and nourishes its young people instead of largely ignoring them for turing them over to video games. But we have trouble making even minor cultural changes! As a sub-issue, it also threatens the criminal justice mindset. And it threatens a huge government bureaucracy and a multi-billion dollar private prison industry (that hires former government employees).

The criminal justice problem itself is twofold. First there is a conservative mindset and secondly, a system that actually discourages convicts from straightening themselves out.

The conservative mind operates on the principle that wrongs need to be punished. So the criminal justice system – judges, police, etc. – a bastion of conservative thinking, plus politicians who play the issue for votes, want punishment for crimes, they want the proverbial “eye for an eye.”

Secondly, there is no incentive in the criminal justice system to reward self improvement. In fact, there are disincentives. There are few meaningful programs to help prisoners who want to straighten their lives out and no real incentives for prison administrations to help prisoners straighten out their lives. And if the system does parole an inmate who later commits a crime, there will be hell to pay. Besides, meaningful prisoner help programs add significantly to stressed budgets and an overburdened staff. And, even if there were support for inmate healing, the psychological philosophy that would administer it is woefully inadequate to meet the task.

The prison system struggles under another handicap, this one not of its own making. Most of the big mental hospitals were closed years ago because they were expensive and didn’t work very well. Community based treatment facilities were found to be much more effective. So we closed most of the big hospitals but then never bothered to fund community-based ones.

There were the up-front costs but primarily, politicians were reluctant to confront the inevitable NIMBY’s from the neighborhoods where these facilities were to be located. The locals were ignorant of the realities of mental illness and reacted from fear, FOX News and Hollywood stereotypes of the mentally ill. So, the prisons have been saddled with the responsibility of housing many of these people, adding a considerable burden to an already faltering system. So, we kicked the mental health can down the road (or under freeway underpasses).

OK, so what to do?

Starting at the back end, there isn’t a large body of evidence, but the few examples we do have demonstrate that the shamanic healing process can be extremely effective in dealing with the interpersonal pain that drives the criminal mind. It has been demonstrated that we can successfully return many of these people to society. It’s not easy to undue a lifetime of crime, but shamanism addresses the disharmonies within the person that drive their behaviors and in doing so, offers the potential for real healing, not just a temporary behavioral change.

Some criminals have become so hardened and bitter that they are almost impossible to reach and then there are the criminally insane, but these are a small percentage of the prison population.

The vast majority of the people now in prison can be helped, and we should do that, but that is also working the problem from the wrong end. We need to address the early years, where most dysfunctional behaviors are created. We must be willing to provide the assistance our young people and their families need. Not just label them as social “failures” and write them off. And we need to do it from a community perspective. Community (not just governmental) involvement could address the pockets of crime, domestic violence, drug abuse, gang violence, job skills, mental illness and family dysfunctionality. After all, it takes a community to raise a child and a committed community to help a troubled one. And this is one area where an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure.

But we divorce ourselves from our “troubled kids” the same way we divorce our troubled fellow men and women who end up on the short end of the economic stick. We leave our homeless people for the agencies or the street, our sick for the doctors and hospitals, our drug addicts for rehab centers, our hungry for the soup kitchens and our troubled kids for schools or the police. But the courts and the “experts” – who, no matter how well intended, can never replace the role of a concerned community or a parent in a young person’s development. But up until now, we have not been so inclined to get involved. That would require a major cultural overhaul.

copyright © Blue Lotus Press 2014

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Being Angry

by Ross Bishop

Do you get upset easily? Do other people set you off? Do you get angry, explosively so, at your partner? Worse yet, are you unremittingly harsh on yourself? What about other drivers? Or, conversely, are you withdrawn and totally timid? Do you live in abject fear of being hurt if you speak your mind?

A certain amount of anger is normal and healthy. It helps establish healthy boundaries. But, if you lose it, if those around you fear “those episodes”, if you’re reaction is the equivalent of a nuclear meltdown when something goes wrong,then there is something more going on, and it would do well to pay attention to it. Conversely, covering up or hiding your feelings is not healthy either.

First of all, you need to understand that your rage or fear has little to do with the present circumstance. The other person just happens to be in the crosshairs of an old wound. Nobody gets that angry or fearful without sufficient provocation and
it is the imbalance in your reaction that tells us that something more is going on here. Other drivers will do stupid things and politicians are corrupt, but the pain we are talking about is old.

If your inner child is feeling that kind of rage, she had good reason. Inner children are never irrational. Inner children live in the past. Something happened to cause her response. Something abusive. Maybe it was physical abuse, emotional abuse, possibly even sexual abuse. It would take something of that magnitude to cause your present reaction.

If something happened to you, until you heal the wound, your only protection is your rage or collapse. They create psychological distance between you and a world that your inner one judges to be unsafe. She felt powerless then and she feels powerless now to someone who she feels could violate her boundaries. And I am the last person who would seek to take that protection away from you, because until you heal you need it!

The problem is that rage can keep you from healing. It doesn’t matter that the original perpetrator is no longer a part of your life or that what happened was 30 or 40 years ago, until your wounds are healed, the effects of those events and her reactions are current.

If you’re sitting on a boatload of anger at someone who took advantage of you, that anger is likely to boil over onto safer targets. It’s a lot easier to be incensed about some politician or God or a some other driver than to deal with a parent or relative about what happened. And, you get to wrap yourself in moral righteousness and therefore don’t have to address what’s really going on with you either. But that does nothing to resolve your issue.

When you were young, you didn’t do anything wrong. In situations of physical or sexual abuse or feelings of being abandoned because of adoption, for example, you did not do anything! You were a victim. That’s what generates the rage. It’s the inherent unfairness of the thing. You were a victim of circumstance. Most victims blame themselves in part, and have a hard time believing they truly were innocent, but it’s true.

Since that time, your feelings about yourself undoubtedly led to a poor self image and a succession of poor choices, which in turn, further reinforced your bad feelings about yourself. But if a railroad engine jumps the tracks, the cars are obliged to follow. You acted as you had been taught. One of the hardest things for victims to accept is that regardless of how they feel, they were still victims. There never was anything wrong with you.

What to do? Swallow your pride, face your shame and get help. The feelings associated with abuse are severe enough (witness your present reaction) that dealing with this by yourself is pretty tough. You need that guidance of an experienced healer. Now, I’m prejudiced, I’d send you to a good shaman because we are trained to deal with these issues.


More About Anger

After posting my recent article on anger I got an email from my friend George Cohen, who teaches anger management. George brought to my intention some things I had inferred but that perhaps I could have made more clear:

We label two behaviors as anger when really we should separate them. Real anger serves to bring us together. It says, “I love you enough to tell you that I don’t like what you did.” It is a primary response to injustice – feeling cheated, used or abused for example. Abandonment and rejection can also fall into this category, although they get muddled by the other form of what we call anger, which really isn’t anger at all.

False anger, technically an aspect of rage, is what we most commonly see. This is a secondary reaction to protect us from feelings of insecurity we are afraid to expose. That includes things like fear, hurt, vulnerability, shame and guilt. False anger creates walls. It serves to create distance between us because we are afraid to let others see our “defects.” False anger is fear based.

This duality, by the way, can be found in all emotions. Every real emotion has a false side that mimics the real thing. Real love, for example, creates intimacy, brings us closer together. False love, based in neediness and insecurity, will ultimately drive us apart. What can be confusing is that the false stuff seems like the real thing. On the surface it looks like love or anger, but with a little digging . . . Sadly, few people in our society know or experience real love. Like anger, we mostly see the false kind.

Legitimate anger tends to mirror the offense, where with false anger the response will be far in excess of the immediate cause. Because it is driven by vulnerability, a false anger reaction can be quite explosive. That’s because with false emotions we aren’t dealing with the present situation, but rather seek to protect ourselves from a childhood vulnerability that has not been healed. With false love, for example, we seek to cover over our “inadequacies” through relationship.

Let’s say someone cuts you off in traffic. There is a legitimate response to that intrusion, normally irritation. You slow down, change lanes, get out of their way and go about your business. If however, you come into the situation feeling vulnerable, then your reaction can become explosive. Responding to the other driver’s carelessness is understandable, but exploding has nothing to do with the present situation. It’s old, unresolved pain. A vulnerability has been triggered that you don’t want exposed. But, since you can’t do anything about the other driver’s intrusion, you cover your feelings of vulnerability with an outburst of rage. It’s smoke and mirrors.

If we are able to focus on our underlying feelings and deal with them, even after the event, we might be able to not only limit our explosive reactions, we might just prevent them from happening altogether. This is where a rigorous self-inventory can be valuable. What are you vulnerable to? What or who do you feel you cannot protect yourself from? What beliefs about yourself do you hold that do not serve you? Certainly some of this you can deal with on your own, but for the big issues, get yourself a good shaman.

copyright © Blue Lotus Press 2014

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There Will Be More School Shootings

by Ross Bishop

The Intersection of Social Failure

Sandy hook

Airplanes they say, crash because of multiple systems failures. Columbine, Sandy Hook, Aurora and Virginia Tech all represent significant multiple failures in the ways we regulate weapons and in our approaches to troubled people. The sad thing is that these tragedies are only the tip of a rather large iceberg. These problems have been screaming for resolution for a long time, and as is so often the case in America, it takes a catastrophe to bring them to our attention.

Limiting the availability of assault weapons and high capacity magazines is an essential part of the solution, but it is not the total answer. There are actually five important areas that intersect to create mass shooting tragedies, and each adds an element that ultimately together leads to disaster. These areas are: the way we view and treat troubled people, the sad failure of our mental health system, restrictions in the law, the availability of assault weapons and the nature of the dysfunction that drives mass killers.

There are answers to each of these aspects. Some will be expensive and others will require changes in our way of thinking. But since most of the changes will have to come through the political process, we can expect the special interests to be busy protecting their private agendas. However, one thing is absolutely assured – unless we do something substantial and soon, we’ll be having funerals for more a lot more innocent schoolchildren.

This is a complicated matter that touches on personal privacy issues, the right to own firearms, the power of the state vs individual freedom – especially as it relates to the confinement of angry, but not mentally ill people, the limits of police power, unlawful search and seizure and of course, the right of children to go to school or the mall without the threat of being killed.

The underlying fabric to this dilemma is the way we view and treat troubled people. We shun them, we fear them. They are the pariahs of society and we treat them like they used to treat the lepers in the Old Testament. Even with our enlightened modern perspective, we still try to sweep troubled people under the rug – or into alleys and freeway underpasses. A big part of our resolving this issue will have to do with us finding compassion in our hearts for these suffering people.

When it comes to the allocation of social resources, the emotionally troubled are always at the bottom of the barrel and the first to have funding cut when money gets tight. Over the past three years, conservatives in Congress have cut $4.3 billion from the federal mental health budget.

Our present mental health system has failed for two primary reasons – a lack of funding for facilities and resources and the inability of psychology to meaningfully help troubled people.

There was a time when we had large state mental hospitals. They were truly awful places, expensive warehouses for the mentally ill that offered little prospect for patients to ever get better. It was found that smaller, community-based mental health facilities could produce some results, so Congress shut off funding for big state hospitals – and then never bothered to provide money for community based health care. Also, people didn’t want mental health clinics in their neighborhoods, so faced with tight budgets and local opposition, the politicians folded.

Troubled people were simply turned out into the street to fend for themselves. In the public brouhaha after the horrible Virginia Tech shootings, gaping holes were exposed in the state of Virginia’s mental health system. The conservative Virginia legislature, traditionally opposed to any public funding for health care, allocated $43 million toward the state’s mental health system. A year later, when the media had gone away, the same legislature cut the state’s mental health budget by $50 million.

Troubled people don’t have a political lobby. There is no one to protest when mental health budgets are slashed and resources are eliminated. Plus, as I said, mental health care is always one of the first targets of budget cutting conservatives who are concerned about the expansion of socialized medicine. Political conservatives seem to possess antipathy towards the treatment of troubled people. Psychologists are typically viewed as fuzzy thinking liberals who want to help troubled people by providing socialized medicine.

When you read expert opinions and media accounts of shooters, keep a few things in mind: Mental illness has fairly specific diagnoses. And taken as a group, mentally ill people are no more violent than you are. There are a lot of people walking around who you might call “nuts” in street vernacular, who do not fit into the defined categories of mental illness.

There is a small percentage of mentally ill people, and we are not talking about large numbers here – specifically those with severe and untreated symptoms of schizophrenia with psychosis, major depression or bi-polar disorder, who are about twice as likely to be violent. Psychiatrists have created a category of illness called Antisocial Personality Disorder, which is sort of a catch-all for antisocial behavior.

People who have schizophrenia and substance-use issues do pose an even greater risk. They have a nine times higher risk of being violent. The association is especially marked in regards to homicide. People with schizophrenia are nearly 20 times as likely to kill as people unaffected by the disease. But, these are largely individual killings. Mass shooters are rarely substance abusers. And we should carefully distinguish between typical murderers, (remembering that any murder is a horrible thing!) and the special category of mass killers, because there are important differences.

We make a serious error when we categorically label mass killers as mentally ill. Mental illness is certainly an important consideration, but the mentally ill account for less than half of all multiple victim shootings. Of the 60 most recent mass shooters, acute paranoia, delusions, and depression were rampant among them, but only 38 of them displayed signs of mental health problems (not necessarily mental illness), prior to the killings.

Actually, there are even far fewer mentally ill involved if we only consider the “big” events. The large group of shooters, and we are only talking about 60 men out of a population of 35,000,000 young men, consists of troubled people who are not technically mentally ill, but who pose a serious threat because of their towering rage. Of the three major and many smaller gun tragedies in the nation in 2012, only one of the perpetrators seems to have been mentally ill. The others were just angry, feeling that they were right and everybody else was wrong. They see other people as responsible for their problems. They externalize blame, scapegoating groups or individuals – family, co-workers, neighbors — for whatever is wrong in their lives.

Violence is neither a diagnosis nor is it a disease, and ours remains a violent society. If you read the news, people kill each other every day, by the hundreds – in Afghanistan, New York and East LA, and very few of these people are mentally ill. A military officer who kills masses of people with a Predator drone may be many things, but he is not mentally ill. A drug dealer seeking to avenge a bad drug deal is little different from the mass shooter who seeks revenge for the abuses he feels have been done to him. These killers have been profiled by Paul Mullen, an esteemed Australian forensic psychologist:

They’re almost all male, there is one exception. They’re young. They tend to be in their 20s. They are typically social isolates. They very rarely have close friends or confidants. They almost never have an intimate relationship, although they sometimes have had brief relationships, which have usually failed.(1)

Interestingly, they’re not like many offenders, they don’t tend to have problems with alcohol and drugs. They’re certainly not impulsive, quite the reverse. These are rather rigid, obsessional individuals who plan everything extremely carefully. And most of these massacres have been planned for days, weeks, sometimes months ahead.

The other thing about them is that they are angry and resentful at the world, they blame the world for not having recognised their qualities, for having mistreated them and misused them. Resentment is central to their personalities.

They spend their time ruminating on all those past slights and offences. And they begin to develop a hatred for the whole world.

Perhaps most important of all, these people are on a project to suicide. They go out there to die, and they go out to die literally in what they see as a blaze of glory. They are seeking a sort of personal vindication through fame or, more precisely, infamy.

To summarize: although direct research is somewhat limited because shooters usually commit suicide, they do operate from an almost stereotypical pattern. The shooter kills in public during the daytime, plans his offense well in advance and comes prepared with a powerful arsenal of weapons. He has no escape plan and expects to be killed during the incident. The killer is driven by strong feelings of anger and resentment, flowing from beliefs of being persecuted or grossly mistreated. He is driven by fantasies of revenge.

These killers are calculating and delusional, but most often not mentally ill. If you met one, you’d think they were odd, but their behavior would not alert you to what they were planning. They can be episodic, so people who spend time with them such as parents, friends and teachers will know that something is wrong, but that can be said for many people, and trying to pick out a potential shooter from the millions troubled, frustrated and disenfranchised people is a daunting task to say the least.

But what is a teacher or parent to do? Several of the recent crop of mass killers could easily have been helped by a residential facility, but even though their problems had been identified, there was simply no program or facility to help them, and no mechanism in place to allow them to be legally referred out for help. So the concerns of teachers, family members and even therapists fell into an abyss in the system with as we now know, tragic consequences!

Most often a teacher or parent’s only resource is to call the police, but the police can only respond to a direct, immanent, violent threat. This puts the subject, if he looses his rigid composure (which is uncommon), into a criminal justice system that is neither equipped or prepared to deal with him.

There are almost no resources to help troubled people – no housing, no supervision, no guidance, counseling or vocational training. A callous political calculation has been made that killings such as Columbine, Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook are a cheaper alternative than to create community based mental health clinics and the billions of dollars and large infrastructure that would require.

Shooters do not see themselves as troubled but rather as victims, so these angry young men vehemently resist taking medications, being confined or receiving treatment. Many of the drugs they are prescribed have truly awful side effects (including violent behavior), further complicating an already difficult situation. These men are smart but their dysfunction is likely to have already brought them up against teachers, the police and psychiatrists, and they will have learned how to play the system to avoid being confined.

The lack of community support makes the well-meaning teacher or parent who seeks help for a subject, a target for the subject’s smoldering rage. And as we have sadly seen, these men can lash out with incredibly destructive rage or in a most interesting modern twist, lawsuits! Most parents are also unwilling to see their sons as troubled because that reflects back on them as parenting failures.

A critical element in the discussion of mass shooters obviously involves guns and their accessibility. There is a group of people in our society who fear that the government might try and take away their freedoms. These are usually men who feel personally powerless. And for people who feel powerless, like a victimized shooter or an NRA member, an assault rifle can be the great equalizer.

The need of these men to defend themselves against a fantasied governmental incursion has led them to create an open market for assault style weapons that regrettably, can easily get into the wrong hands (either legally or illegally). The fear of these “Defenders of Freedom” puts the rest of us at grave risk. Eighty percent of the perpetrators of the 62 most recent mass shootings obtained their weapons legally.


Besides, home security can easily be accomplished by less aggressive weapons. And as far as protection from a governmental incursion is concerned, if you consider the premise of armed civilians going up against the might of the Army with its tanks, trained troops and helicopter gunships, the whole concept becomes pretty ridiculous. But, in one sense the NRA is right, guns are only the instruments of mayhem. But, the pivotal factor that the NRA conveniently chooses to ignore is that a rage filled person with a Bushmaster assault rifle is massively more deadly and dangerous than one without. Mass killers don’t use knives or baseball bats. Assault weapons have been perfected as instruments of death and they are incredibly effective at doing it! And that is why we must get them and high capacity magazines off the street!

The NRA, controlled and funded by gun manufacturers, purposefully and unconscionably, fuels their member’s fears, as it attempts to gain support for its private agenda, which is a society where everyone carries guns – essentially a throwback to the violent Wild West of the 1880′s.

The other aspect of the weapons discussion has to do with their sheer availability. There are over 350,000,000 guns in America and anyone who wants a gun can easily get one. You can go to any city in America and in 48 hours purchase enough guns and ammunition (including heavy weapons), to equip a small army.

gun  show

America is violent country. Our homicide rates are SEVEN TIMES higher than rates in the other high-income countries. More than half of all murders are committed with guns. Our firearm homicide rates are TWENTY TIMES higher. For youths fifteen to twenty-four years old, firearm homicide rates in America are FORTY THREE TIMES higher than in other countries.(1)

Another issue in this discussion, and what has until now been a sacred cow, is the failure of psychotherapy to heal people. The simple truth is that psychotherapy and drugs just don’t work very well. But, since they have been the only game in town and they come from the esteemed medical profession, politicians give them approval because of the way the legal system esteems psychiatry, (which even amongst practicing psychotherapists is a standing joke!) The alternative is to warehouse troubled people like we do criminals – who we also don’t seem to know how to help.

Shamanism (and you must accept my bias here) has a remarkable record of helping emotionally troubled people to heal, but it is a foreign concept from “backward” tribal cultures, difficult to teach in university classrooms and is spiritually and not medically or “scientifically” based. Besides, there are relatively few really qualified shaman around. So, even though the psychotherapy car already has several flat tires, we continue to try and drive it down the road.

The law doesn’t help much in dealing with troubled people either. The courts are understandably, exceedingly touchy about confining someone against their will without a certification of mental illness. And as I said, most mass killers do not meet the the mental illness requirement. Acts of mass murder are so heinous that it is difficult to attribute them to normal people, but shooters are merely the extreme fringe of a culture that engages in deadly violence every day. In America hundreds of people are killed every single day. I don’t personally agree with the psychiatric categorizations of mental illness, but these are the rules that the law and the courts have chosen to adopt.

When a troubled person attracts attention, the police are usually called. But the only resource a police officer has is jail, and that’s only going to be for a short time. Sometimes they can pawn the troubled person off to a shelter. If a seriously troubled person comes for therapy, unless he or she represents an imminent and immediate threat to themselves or to others, the system effectively forbids the therapist from doing anything beyond counseling. Even if the subject is a ticking time bomb, unless he or she expresses an active desire to cause harm, therapists, the police, teachers, the clergy and even the courts are denied any real resource for intervention.

And when a person does present an active threat, they can only be hospitalized for 72 hours before being committed as mentally ill, if they actually happen to be so, and if there is a bed available, which these days is rare. A colleague of mine in Virginia had a potentially violent client, checked with the state and found 70 other violent people already waiting in line. By the end of the day, this violent and potentially explosive man was back on the street. The only consolation for mental health professionals is the miracle that more killings aren’t happening every day!

I would like to end by making a few suggestions. These are not complete answers, but they would go a very long way toward mitigating the current situation:

Since an assault weapon cannot be used for hunting, and personal defense can be easily accomplished by other means, it is time that society took a stand and joined the rest of the civilized world to establish bans on assault weapons and large capacity magazines. Further, the purposefully designed loopholes in the present reporting system for weapons sales such as unregulated private and gun show sales must be closed. Unfortunately, having the government maintain a list of gun owners feeds right into the paranoia that makes NRA members want assault weapons in the first place!

In a many cases, troubled people can be identified before things go bad. I have mentioned having a referral system based on observations from therapists, law enforcement officers, clergy, teachers and even family members. It would be simple to backstop these referrals with a qualified professional so that errors would be minimized.

There are tests that could help identify people who are likely to need help in the future. It would be possible to test all sixteen to twenty year olds for a host of issues. This could cull out most, but unfortunately not all, of the people likely to be future shooters.

But, there is no sense identifying these people if we are not going to provide the resources to help them. The names of people meeting critical criteria could be denied access to firearms. Civil libertarians will not like it, but under the circumstances, it would seem to be a reasonable limitation of personal freedom. Access to this list could be selectively given to parents, teachers, the clergy, therapists, the courts and law enforcement officers.

There is a desperate need for community based, residential facilities for troubled people. These facilities must be sufficiently funded and staffed so that the needs of patients could be addressed and the reasonable concerns of neighbors mitigated. This would provide a badly needed resource for parents, therapists, law enforcement officers, the clergy, the courts and educators who, with some changes in the law, could refer out troubled people with protection from retribution and lawsuits. This represents a very large expenditure, probably the equivalent cost of an aircraft carrier or a few nuclear missiles.

Psychotherapy has emphasized cognitive behavioral health for years. Cognitions and behaviors are measurable, observable. And to some extent, altering thoughts and behaviors does help MANAGE emotional issues. But in only rare cases does it HEAL them. This leaves open room for relapse when the person is subjected to challenging circumstances.

There are other healing methods like shamanism that have an established history of providing exactly the healing that troubled shooters require. These approaches can reach the cause of the underlying problems and address them. It is time to begin looking into some of these alternate approaches.

Confining someone against their will who is not mentally ill and who already feels victimized by the world is going to pose a nightmare for the courts and legislators. Where do you draw the line? What about errors in diagnosis? And there will be some. This matter is subjective and emotionally loaded, presenting land mines for the legal system.
As I said, this is a complex issue with many moving parts.

Solutions will require changes in the concerns some politicians have about socialized medicine and our present legal prohibitions around personal privacy. Creating community based mental health clinics will be expensive. But most importantly, what needs to change are the views, fear and ostracism we hold towards troubled people.We need to find our compassion for them. Societies do not die in a cataclysm, that is only the final event in a series of unresolved social issues that cause the social fabric to decay. To delay, to not provide care for the many troubled people who live amongst us, is to only invite more school shootings, and the painful thing about that is what it says about a society that is unwilling to respond to the cries of its neediest people. Perhaps the Mayans were right after all.


(1) To clarify Mullen’s point: Interviews tell us that mass shooters are not exactly loners. They do not seek isolation, and have “friends,” but their social experience is marked by a history of struggling to connect. They experience rejection by their peers or they draw back from potential friendships, assuming they’ll be rejected if they try. They believe they are perceived as unimportant and insignificant. Many mass shooters, rather than wanting to be alone, end up that way because they cannot maintain a connection.

(2) (

 Copyright 2013 Ross Bishop


by Ross Bishop

As a child you may have been told about God or St. Peter keeping a big book in which sins and good deeds were recorded. That’s how many people view karma, as a consequence for bad decisions. Sometimes too, people are taught that karma is like a cosmic boomerang that punishes people for bad behavior – from this life or a previous one. Although these are quaint explanations, neither explanation is true. This is not how The Creator operates.

There is also confusion in the Judeo-Christian-Muslim world because the Old and New Testament Gods are so different. One punishes, the other forgives. Jews, Muslims and some Christian faiths hold to the Old Testament view of God or Allah sitting in judgment over mankind, meting out punishment as appropriate. Muslims take the concept even further, viewing life as a process through which God tests us. How can these conflicting views be explained? And, what is the truth?

Let’s look first at the world of the Old Testament. Life in those days was run by superstition. It was a world of demons and gods. Everything in nature, especially life, was a great mystery. It is easy, under those conditions, to ascribe an angry God to a storm or an earthquake. It is easy to see a difficult life or disease as a curse from the gods.

There is also a tricky piece of logic here. Everything is under the rubric of God’s control – otherwise, He’s not God! If you hold the human perspective, life can seem terribly cruel, with devastation, famine, disease, etc. Leading to an attribution of anger or displeasure from God. Science can describe life or an earthquake in great detail, but it does not even attempt essential questions such as why we live or why we love. When however, you shift your perspective away form the strictly human point of view and begin to look at the world from God’s viewpoint, things on earth start to make a great deal more sense. I do not think that pre-Christian writers had the freedom to take that perspective. And, as I said, when all you can hold is the human point of view, it’s fairly easy to perceive difficult events as God’s punishment. I suspect that there is a great deal in the Old Testament that falls into the category of misinterpretation and misunderstanding.

It is not my place to say whether God visited Abraham or Moses, but even in the best of conditions, it is frightfully easy to misinterpret channeled information, especially in the context of a culture heaped in superstition. We also know that people in positions of unquestionable power (and the Middle East was full of kings), are easily corrupted by that power. Their discernment becomes seriously distorted. Even the Great kings David and Solomon were not free from these influences. I look at Moses’ forty years of wandering, and have to wonder if he really was being led by God, as Golda Meir said, “To the only land in the Middle East without any oil.”

Christ brought a significantly different perspective of the Creator. In fact, He said that one of the reasons He had come was to clear up our misunderstandings about who God was. Christ did not seek to criticize the Old Testament stories; instead, he gave us a new way to view life. He told us of a loving and compassionate father who had infinite love for his children and did not judge or punish them.

This more enlightened view of the Creator sheds a very different light on karma. If the Creator is not an “eye for an eye” kind of guy, then the idea of karma as punishment or retribution is no longer appropriate. If however, we accept Christ’s teaching that God is a loving and compassionate teacher we can look at karma differently, and when we do, the pieces start to fall into place.

Let us begin with the premise that The Universe’s sole purpose is to encourage you to learn to love yourself. Everything you experience will be based on that premise. If you love yourself you will experience inner peace. But if you do not, you will face inner turmoil. When it manifests outward, your inner turmoil will create conflict with others. The pain from both the inner and outer conflicts is the energy of karma.

The intensity of an experience is determined by the degree to which you separate from the state of compassion. The farther “out” you are, the more intense and challenging your experience will be – not as punishment mind you, but as a wake-up call, asking you to look at the beliefs that are driving your behavior. In that sense, karma is more like a force of nature – say, gravity – than punishment or retribution.

If you hold a lifetime of rage for example, you will likely act with dysfunctional aggression toward the world. And as a result, you are going to be met with a host of resistance – from lovers, friends, maybe even the police. Your life (internal and external) will be hell. This is karma – the dissonance you create asking you to look at the beliefs that drive it.

It is easy to get caught up in the drama, to be angry at life for being difficult or unfair, and get lost in self-pity and shame. Most people do. These are just some of the things we do to avoid looking at what we have created. The Universe, operating like a great balancing wheel, is obliged to call your beliefs to your attention. This is the Law of Karma in operation. It is not punishment or payback, it is “encouragement” for you to look at your beliefs and bring them into harmony. Refuse this request and the process becomes a cattle prod. This is not done out of cruelty or unkindness, but in measured response to the resistance you present. Resist further and you will be brought to your knees. We call it a crisis – a healing crisis. Perhaps it will be a disease or personal turmoil, but something will present you with the challenge to, “Change or die.”

“But what of the innocents?” you might ask. “How do you explain children being harmed or getting diseases?” The principles are the same; it is an issue once again, of perspective. You need to remember that we carry the unresolved energies of each lifetime into the future. That endangered child, just like you, is engaged in a process to complete what was not finished in their previous lives. What is happening is not punishment, but rather a continuation of a vital learning process. If you were to look back at the unresolved issues of your past, you would find that they have been perfectly crafted to create your present life experience. That seeming innocent, and children have souls too, is completing a powerful process that needs resolution. After all, painful though they are, disease and affliction are some of our most powerful teachers.

“Should I intervene then?” The answer is a profound, “Yes, (unless the other is not open to your efforts).” Your intervention is also a part of the Creator’s plan for both of you. It is an expression of your natural compassion. You may not be able to effect much change, but making the effort is important.

Copyright©2008 Blue Lotus Press

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