19 Nov Active Shooter Prep a Sad Commentary
Violence — random, sudden, illogical, and lethal — has become a fact of life. Years of social and economic injustice have resulted in large numbers of people who are frustrated and without hope for the future, people to whom bravado is everything, and anything that seems the slightest bit threatening — a put-down, a disagreement, a dirty look — demands immediate retaliation. As I write these words, this kind of violence almost seems old school to me.
I’m not quite sure when my consciousness shifted about the kind of violence we now all face. I wonder if it was during the six-year period beginning in December 1993 when the Long Island Railroad massacre occurred, followed by the Oklahoma City bombing in April 1995 and then the Columbine school shooting in April 1999. The targets: public transportation, a federal building and a public school.
I think it was during that period of time when it started to sink in that something dramatically different was happening that was more than a fluke. I remember thinking, in one of my more morbid moments, that all Americans were secretly entered into a daily national lottery that wouldn’t result in fortunes gained from pooled funds, but instead in body counts delivered at the hands of deranged strangers.
And now, as two additional decades have unfolded, churches, synagogues, concert halls, nightclubs, workplaces and more have been added to the pantheons of mass murder.
This past Election Day, during our annual staff development day, I participated in an Active Shooter Preparedness Training at North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center. It was presented by police officer Ken Murray and paramedic Rich Husch from Nassau County Police Department Homeland Security division. The training was engaging and informative.
Before 1993, I don’t believe I could have imagined participating in such a workshop. Today it is essential for workplaces, schools and houses of worship.
In a staff development day just few years earlier, the theme was mindfulness. Mindfulness, originally a Buddhist concept founded centuries ago, refers to a practice of paying attention and staying in the present, moment-by-moment, to feelings, thoughts, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment without being judgmental. Mindfulness is often taught as a meditative approach to calming or soothing oneself.
After the active shooter preparedness training I thought about the commonalities and contrasts of the two, both of which emphasize paying attention to the environment, one to luxuriate in the richness of what might otherwise pass one by and the other to be hypervigilant to threats and escape routes.
Mindfulness is taught for the benefits of stress reduction, improved focus and reduced emotional reactivity. Active shooter preparedness is taught so that, In the midst of chaos, anyone can play an integral role in mitigating the impacts of a potentially deadly incident.
On reflection, I’m struck by the emotional flexibility required to absorb both into one’s consciousness, requiring fluidity and many-sidedness. Robert Lifton is an American psychiatrist and author, chiefly known for his studies of the psychological causes and effects of wars and political violence.
In a review of Lifton’s book, “The Protean Self: Human Resilience in an Age of Fragmentation,” the reviewer sums up the concept of the protean self by stating that “life is not a straight line. Instead, it is, and ought to be, experienced as a collage.”
The sad reality today is that the collage is becoming overcrowded by images of carnage that more sensible gun regulation can go a long way to changing.
Andrew Malekoff is the executive director of North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, which provides comprehensive mental health services for children from birth through 24 and their families. To find out more, visit www.northshorechildguidance.org.