Where Do You Find Inspiration?

I know it has been quite a long time since I posted anything but my blog muse has been having anger management issues so the things I wrote, I really could not post.

As many of you know, recently the media has been continuing the “violent veteran/soldier narrative.” This makes me absolutely crazy. But as I struggled with biting my tongue, then writing angry blog posts, then deleting those posts before publishing and began the cycle all over, I realized as I would check my twitter feed and my facebook newsfeed that the majority of pages and people that I follow for the purpose of helping me find inspiration and keeping me grounded have been posted by current and former military.

I have found that those who do not hesitate to sacrifice themselves for the sake of others, those who have faced trauma and death and survived, are the most amazing people I have known and have the most valuable messages to share.

Our experiences help shape us into the people that we are today. Yes, there are some aspects of my past that I wish I could have avoided but then I would not be who I am today. So we all must struggle to find our strength, we sometimes have to lose everything before realizing how anything is truly possible, sometimes we must speak for those who have no voice. And when in the presence of true bravery and heroes, I find myself shamed that I did not volunteer.

And while my life is very far from perfect, it could be a lot worse and with that, I look to those others for the inspiration to keep going when it feels like too much. I look for the laughter in life to help lift my spirit. I look to those who have fought, have sacrificed, have struggled, and have the courage and fortitude to continue on when others have not. I find that in our military, past and present. I am truly humbled by the sacrifices that they make, that their families make, and that those who are no longer with us have made. I value my freedom and I pray for our soldiers and veterans every day. I know what this life could be if we did not have them defending our freedom and rights. I support them any way I can.

So when I struggle, I think about Jason Redman’s sign on the door, I think about Dakota Meyer discussing his suicide attempt, I think about Bryan A. Wood’s struggle with coming home and becoming a civilian again, I think about Marcus Luttrell and all he endured with Operation Red Wings and he continued on with the teams and continues on with the Patriot Tour and the Lone Survivor Foundation to make sure that everyone remembers, I think about the family of Michael P. Murphy and the life he lived before he gave it in defense of our freedoms, I think about Christopher Heben chasing down the gunmen in Ohio before seeking medical attention for his gunshot wound, I think about Mylee YC and her battle with breast cancer and PTSD, I think about Christopher Van Etten and Alex Minsky and Bobby Henline and others who now have combat-modified bodies. I think about those whose names I do not know, those who I’ve heard about from these survivors and from others. I think about the men at my Grandpa’s VFW, those who shared their stories and pictures and their time, and who turned me into their little mascot. I can think of so many examples of soldiers and veterans doing good, living the life of a true role model and hero, yet their stories go untold by the media.

This is where my inspiration comes from. This is from where I draw my strength. So when I hear about stories talking about correlations between PTSD and violent soldiers and veterans or that ridiculous New York Times op-ed attempting to correlate veterans with white supremacists, I am offended. I get angry. I want to scream at the top of my lungs and say, YOU ARE WRONG! And they are wrong. But we don’t see those corrections. We don’t see coverage of those who stand up and say, “you got the facts wrong.” Correlation does not imply causation. I teach this to my students. The media and the author of that New York Times op-ed needs to learn this. They need to realize that their poor coverage and false information has an impact in society. It encourages employers not to hire veterans, it further stigmatizes PTSD, combat stress, and anxiety leading to the horribly high numbers of veteran and soldier suicides, it leads to homeless veterans, it leads to veterans languishing in the red tape of bureaucracy only to die waiting for an appointment at the VA, it leads to politicians repeatedly calling for armed action and sending our brave men and women into battle, yet cutting funding or denying funding or capping funding for treatment when they come home.

It makes me angry, it makes me rage, but I can turn it around and use it as a teaching moment. I can use my meager resources to get the facts out, to organize for change and to inform others to not be passive consumers hypnotized by the sensationalizing media, but to critically analyze, to use critical thinking skills to get the facts, to question, to say “we are not doing enough, we must do more for those who sacrifice for our freedom,” to become involved in the political process, to call out media outlets and hold them accountable for shoddy research and reports, to exercise those rights that I hold dear, those rights that so many have and continue to fight and die for. I know what I do is not enough, it will never be enough to truly express the depth of my gratitude for their sacrifice but I will continue on, I will continue to support them in any way, no matter how small, I will continue to fight for them, I will continue to make sure their stories live on and that those who have sacrificed have not done so in vain.

So as we approach Memorial Day and honor those who gave all, think about where you find your inspiration and look at some of the amazing people out there sharing messages of survival, hope, love, faith, and tolerance. You may find yourself surprised at how many of them currently or at one time have worn a military uniform.

Veterans Day 11 November 2013

As many of you know, I am a proud supporter of our military and veterans. I have the utmost respect for the sacrifices that they make and am so grateful for the freedom that they fight to defend. Last year, I spoke about the fact that many schools have opted out of celebrating Veterans Day, which I still find truly appalling, especially when they take time to celebrate Columbus Day, a day celebrating a man for bringing about the genocide of Native Americans and introducing slavery to North America (click here for last year’s blog post).

When we look at US society, what does it tell us about how we treat our veterans? Well, we celebrate by offering an optional Federal holiday (see last year’s post containing my fury over schools opting out of recognizing Veterans Day) and offering a multitude of sales for non-veterans and service members. There are those companies that offer free meals and discounts to veterans and active duty military on Veterans Day but those don’t nearly stand out to me as much as the companies that offer discounts throughout the year. Yes, Veterans Day is celebrated on Nov. 11, but is that the only day we should thank our veterans for their service and sacrifice? HELL NO! As a rule, veterans are not looking for handouts and charity. Recognition for the service and sacrifices that they made mean so much more. Letting them know that they matter, that they may have seen and experienced atrocities that civilians cannot even come close to imagining and survived is just one of the ways in which these men and women are heroes. But even more importantly, treating them like human beings, talking to them like normal people and not some media-created scary figure that will at any moment freak out in a fit of violent PTSD.

The truth is any exposure to trauma can lead a person to suffer from PTSD. It is not something that only occurs among the military although the media over-represents military in their PTSD coverage. Not everyone with PTSD engage in violent behavior, although again our popular media over-represents the correlation between violence and PTSD. Would you stop buying ice cream in the summer months when you learn of the strong positive correlation between ice cream sales and homicide rates in the summer months? No (that is a spurious correlation ignoring the important variable of temperature and remember correlation does not equal causation). Thus we should not treat our veterans and military with suspicion because of the popular media’s skewed reporting of information.

We are not doing our veterans any favors by perpetuating the myth of the violent and out-of-control veteran. In truth, it reflects very poorly on us civilians as well because rather than embrace the men and women who sacrifice so much for our freedoms, we would rather turn our backs to them and keep them segregated from society whether it is through unemployment, homelessness, or discrimination of other forms. Being a veteran should be a badge of honor not something a person seeks to hide for fear of discrimination. Here is a blog post by Kate Holt that was posted on 6 March 2012 that is worth reading: “The ‘Dangerous’ Veteran: An Inaccurate Media Narrative Takes Hold.”

We have a long way to go in our society regarding the treatment of our military and veterans. We civilians should be embracing the skills and characteristics that are honed and necessary for military service. We should remember and honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice. We should help our military and veterans reintegrate into society by accepting their perspectives as valid, by acknowledging the strength they have to endure, by respecting their service and sacrifice, and by integrating them into jobs and schools. We can learn so much from these brave men and women and the fact that society chooses not to is very disappointing. As an educator, it is my duty to facilitate the learning of my students and foster the critical thinking skills necessary to succeed in life. As a society, we have a duty to accept all members of society and not turn our backs on those who we ask to make the ultimate sacrifice only to revile them for their actions when they return survivors.

I try to make it a point to speak with at least one veteran a day besides my family members and friends who have and are currently serving. I try to ensure that issues that affect our troops and veterans remain at the forefront of our consciousness by sharing information about some of the amazing programs out there, including but not limited to Wounded Warrior Project, Team Rubicon, The Mission Continues, Operation Gratitude, and The Gary Sinise Foundation. It is the very least I can do to express my gratitude for the freedom that I enjoy.

To the veterans and active-duty military I offer my most sincere thank you for your service and sacrifice. I know that I would not be here today if it were not for you and I would not enjoy the life I live if it were not for your sacrifice. Thank you very much from the bottom of my heart. Stay safe and be well.

Memorial Day

As Memorial Day approaches, we are all reminded of the sacrifice that so many of the men and women of our armed forces make and the real cost of the freedom that we enjoy. Well, at least I hope that is the message being received. Unfortunately, too much emphasis is placed on consumerism and having a day off from work (unless you work in the retail or food service industry, among others).

In my humble opinion, I think Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Armed Forces Day, and Independence Day should be celebrated every day. I don’t mean with sales and fireworks, rather in the fact that we cherish the freedom that we often take for granted. We should truly support our troops and veterans and by support I mean beyond putting a sticker on your car and pressing like on facebook. Make a difference in the lives of those who sacrifice so much. Thank them for their service and sincerely mean it. Our military are not looking for charity or celebration rather they deserve the just gratitude from those who are unable or choose not to fight and defend our country.  Let them know that their sacrifice matters, that they are not simply a number in a uniform, a faceless soldier.

So as politicians, news media talking heads, and others contemplate and support a rush to violent action, remember the cost that moving forward with that decision has. It is not only a financial consideration although that seems to be the main point that is brought up when the debate arises. It is the human cost: the loss of life, the loss of peace of mind, the loss of sobriety, the loss of family unity, the loss of national pride, and the loss of innocence. When we send our soldiers to war or any violent conflict, remember that the cost is so high. Regardless of your thoughts of the reasons our soldiers are sent to battle, they do one of the most difficult jobs there is and pay a price that so many are unwilling to pay.

We must never forget the sacrifice that our troops offer and that our veterans, alive and dead have given.

I feel like I can never thank our troops and veterans enough. My thanks whether in terms of volunteerism, monetary, or verbal seem insufficient. I appreciate my freedom ever single moment of every day. I take time every day to think of the human cost of war. I just wish our politicians, news media talking heads, and others did as well.

Thank you to our troops and veterans. Thank you to the families that support and have sacrificed their loved ones in the protection of our freedom and pursuit of human rights and justice. Thank you to the many organizations out there that support our troops, veterans, and military families.

For those who have given the ultimate sacrifice, if you monitor from beyond, please know that your sacrifice was not in vain, that your courage is to be revered. You are not forgotten and will never be forgotten.

 

Mental Health Awareness Month

Compared to other countries, the U.S. is definitely more accepting of mental health issues however, there remains a strong negative stigma associated with mental health issues. For anyone who has ever been treated for anxiety, depression, even flying phobias, your medical records will indicate that you were treated for a mental illness and thus labeled as uninsurable according to the health insurance companies. Health care is not considered a human right in the U.S., the land of the free.  I will table my tirade and comments on the U.S. health care system for another time. It is these types of obstacles that feed into the negative stigma of mental illness and further dissuade people from seeking help.

For some reason, it is seen as a sign of weakness to seek help for a wide number of things from help with parenting, relationship issues, depression, job issues, etc.  And that is just naming a very limited few of the issues that civilians may battle. How about individuals who work in high-stress jobs or jobs that may require the taking of another life or exposure to the absolute worst examples of humanity – i.e. air traffic controllers, police officers, firefighters, nurse, doctors, paramedics, and of course, our soldiers? If an individual who works as an administrative assistant views seeking counseling for anxiety as a sign of weakness, what about the individual who is expected to be the brave ones, the first responders, the defenders of freedom, the life savers? We need to eliminate this stigma.

Some may argue that they see no problem. It is up to an individual to take care of himself/herself. I disagree. This stigma has resulted in high unemployment for groups of individuals who may be viewed as mentally ill or unstable, which leads to high poverty rates and homelessness for these individuals (as a result of joblessness and inability to obtain health insurance to cover medical care and possible medications), and in a small number of cases, individuals may resort to violence. Unfortunately, the media plays a terrible role in all of this. By sensationalizing the small number of incidents of violence perpetrated by someone who may be suffering from a mental health issue, the media has stoked the fire of fear in our society against those who are suffering from mental health issues, even though most of them are non-violent. Further, by portraying only the violent symptoms that some (not all) soldiers, veterans, first responders, and others who suffer from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), these men and women often find themselves discriminated against in anything from finding a job to adopting a child.

Some politicians have called for legislation to be passed that restricts the rights of individuals who suffer from mental illness. What they do not seem to understand is that mental illness is not a fixed, static category of disorders and conditions. The official classification system is found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association. Since its first publication in 1952, it has undergone several updates and revisions. Over the years, conditions have been added and removed from the classification system of mental illness. For example, homosexuality was considered a mental disorder until it was officially removed from the classification in 1986. Another example is with ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) which officially appeared in 1980 but partially appeared in 1968 under a different designation (hyperkinetic reaction of childhood). The next DSM will be released this month with several changes including the addition of gambling disorder and changes in the definition of PTSD. See the American Psychiatric Association website for more information.

The bottom line is that mental illness is viewed as a sign of weakness, a form of deviance from social norms, and treated with fear and avoidance. There is no shame in asking for help. The world has changed dramatically and even civilians may experience traumatic events that may forever change their outlook and mental health. Do we punish those who witness acts of violence? In theory, no, in practice yes and it is done through the continued discrimination and negative portrayal of mental illness. This needs to stop and the sooner the better. If the media insist on sensationalizing mental illness, they MUST get their facts straight and present all of the information, not just what will attract the most viewers and be considered the most scintillating. Society must be shown and educated about mental health issues. We need to spread the news about how inaccurate the media’s portrayal and resulting societal treatment of the mentally ill is damaging our society, not only socially, but within the judicial, economic, and education institutions among others. We need to promote tolerance and respect not fear and ignorance.  And for those battling with what may be considered mental health issues, remember that you are not alone.

Here are some links that may be of interest:

Bryan A. Wood “Sometimes The Hardest Part to Going to War is Coming Home”

Myke Cole “What PTSD Is”

Kate Holt “The ‘Dangerous’ Veteran: An Inaccurate Media Narrative Takes Hold”

Veterans Crisis Line

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Finding Help for Mental Illness

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE)

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Mental Health

Mental Health Help Hotlines

The Blame Game

The explosions at the Boston Marathon today were an act of cowardice. It is truly horrible that we live in a world where congregating in groups makes you a target for terrorists. But sadly, this is the world we live in. We need to stay vigilant and not get so bent out of shape over security measures aimed at keeping people safe. Inconvenient? Maybe but in the end, if it ensures safety, I’d opt for that inconvenience. When I was in Belfast, Northern Ireland, I saw first hand the security measures in place to help deter attacks and protect civilians. When it came time for me to leave, upon entering the airport, I was met in a large room that only had one empty table and 4 fully armed British soldiers, all aiming their automatic weapons at me as I was frisked and my bags emptied and examined. While I was not exceptionally pleased at looking down the barrel of 3 automatic rifles while the 4th soldier examined my luggage, I must say that once I was allowed to continue into the airport, I felt more secure than I have felt walking down the streets of Chicago. Bottom line is that these security protocols are suggested and implemented to ensure safety so instead of arguing with those that are doing their jobs and putting their lives at risk to protect the civilians, we should thank them for their vigilance.

As I watched on television the coverage of the aftermath of the explosions in Boston today, I was struck by a few things. The first and most notable was the dozens of people who ran towards the blasts to offer help. These are true heroes to join our first responders at a time of uncertainty and chaos. While I find so many daily examples of incidents that make me weep for humanity, watching those brave people give me hope for the future. Maybe there are more heroes out there than we know. Maybe we are personally capable of doing more than we think we would. I should stop here but I feel it is necessary for me to address the parts that do make me weep for humanity.

Several news stations continually ran photographic and video footage of the explosions and the areas after the explosions on loops for hours. If the reporters had pointed out the people running to assist the wounded, I may not have been so cranky about this but I did not hear a single mention of that. Instead, our attention was repeatedly drawn to the wounded themselves as well as the blasts. Next come the talking heads discussion who is to blame and attacking the vocabulary used by government officials in this aftermath. I hope that we elect officials who we feel are competent in their jobs and as leaders, it is essential to remain calm in the face of chaos and disorder. It is essential for our sanity to not jump to conclusions and speak on official terms as to what you may personally be thinking is happening within minutes and even hours after chaotic events. We want answers, I know, but how many times do we go after officials months, even years later as to how they reported inaccurate and untrue information following tragedy? Too many. In the interest of spreading truthful information, it is best not to jump to conclusions. Finally, this is not a time to jump on some political bandwagon to get your agenda sponsored. I was immediately greeted with several graphics and statements about how gun control contributed to the events at the Boston marathon. Any soldier in the military knows that a gun does not protect you from a bomb that you are unaware of. I mean, really, there are many more important items to report on and pay attention to rather than try to use such a tragedy as the groundwork for any political platform, liberal or conservative.

So stop your hate-mongering and let’s come together in support of those whose lives have been altered by the events of today. Let’s focus on the heroes of today and not the race, ethnicity, religion, or nationality of the unknown perpetrators. I have confidence that the individual or individuals will be brought to justice.

So it is with sadness that I must share the following links with you once again as our nation struggles in the aftermath of tragedy. Please be cognizant of who is watching this news footage and take the time to talk to and have a true, conversation with your children about these events.

Here are links for parents and teachers to help with talking to children of all ages about such tragic events as well as for those who may find these events and their coverage to trigger emotional distress. There is no shame in seeking help.

Talking With Kids About News

Helping Students Navigate a Violent World by Sean McCollum

Listen, Protect and Connect: Psychological First Aid for Teachers and Schools (www.ready.gov)

American Psychological Association “Talking to Your Children About the Recent Spate of School Shootings”

National Association of School Psychologists Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “Coping with Stress”

SAMHSA Coping After Traumatic Events Helpline 1-800-985-5990

My thoughts and prayers go out to all of the families of the victims and survivors as they cope with this tragic event. My thanks go out to all of the first responders who risk their lives every day and face the horrors that some members of society insist on perpetrating on the innocent. Thank you to the good Samaritans who ran towards the blasts to help the victims. And finally, my most humblest thank you and appreciation to the men and women of of armed forces, whether active duty or veteran. Your sacrifice is not in vain. I appreciate the risks you take not only physically but psychologically in doing what so many others lack the fortitude to do. Thank you and stay safe.

Lt. Michael P. Murphy and Other Role Models

Today, I traveled 80 miles to see the film “Murph the Protector” and it was well worth the commute. This film is a documentary about the life and death of US Navy SEAL Lt. Michael P. Murphy who was also awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously. After listening to family, friends, and fellow military personnel discuss this young man’s truly inspirational life, as I drove home, I found myself becoming increasingly embittered. I’m bitter because if you stop a child or teen and ask who their role models are, the likely answer would be Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, Snookie, Lindsey Lohan, Justin Bieber, and Barry Bonds among other celebrities and professional athletes. However, what is the reason for their fame? Definitely not their personal behavior nor the example they set for others. Who are the heroes of our children? The rich, spoiled, bullying, cheating, and self-involved individual. Altruism, teamwork, sacrifice, loyalty, honesty, tolerance, and community-building are all foreign notions to so many of our young people. Our society is not improving or progressing in a positive direction.

We need to hear more about true role models, individuals who embody the ideas of teamwork, sacrifice, tolerance, loyalty, justice, community-building and hard work. We should be hearing more about true heroes, our first responders who risk their lives every day for a yearly salary equal to a monthly mortgage payment for many celebrities. We should be hearing about nurses who work long hours with little support in an effort to keep patients comfortable. We should hear about our soldiers who sacrifice not only their physical existence but their emotional well-being. Our heroes are not the ones that we see on television, in movies, and online, they are not the ones earning even a middle class wage much less the exorbitant earnings of the celebrities. They are the bystanders that step in to protect the bullied and victimized. They are the educators that keep our children grounded in the reality that while we live with freedom, the cost was mighty.

With the media’s continual obsession with negative images and stories about our military, our first responders, our teachers, our nurses, and whistleblowers, the message to all is clear: be individualistic and keep to yourself, those who need help are undeserving. This is not a message I want the next generation believing. I want to see a new generation of courageous individuals who will sacrifice individual interests for the benefit of the group, who will work as a team, who will stand up against injustice and intolerance. I want to see a generation of accountability. People being aware that their choices have consequences and even if you are wealthy, if you break the law, you should expect to receive the same punishment as those who are not wealthy. Instead of ignoring or assaulting the homeless and poor, embrace our social contract and offer help even if it is simply to give the individual  a pair of clean socks.

We must support our heroes. We must make them visible even if they themselves shy away from the spotlight (in fact, many true heroes do). We must remember them, their lives, their accomplishments, their determination, their heart, and their legacy along with their sacrifice.

Thank you to our soldiers, our veterans, our first responders, our nurses, our educators, our whistleblowers, and other heroes. I am humbled by your sacrifice. I owe my freedom and security to you. You will never be forgotten.

I would also like to extend a special thank you to the filmmakers, family, friends, and fellow military personnel who participated in the creation and distribution of the film “Murph the Protector.” Thank you for sharing the life story of a truly inspirational and remarkable young man whose bravery and sacrifice should never be forgotten.

For more information including a list of Medal of Honor recipients and their stories, visit the US Army Center of Military History

On A Lighter Note: The Movie Industry

Taking a 180 degree turn from the more serious content that I blog about, today I am going to take some time to talk about movies. I am a huge movie fan. When I was in graduate school, I could not afford cable or satellite so I rented movies very frequently from a small mom and pop video rental store (I’ve been boycotting Blockbuster for a very long time now, but that is a subject for a different posting). It was wonderful until the clerk started commenting on how many movies I watch a month. Not cool. I know I am obsessed, but please don’t point it out. When you study psychology, you learn that everyone has little personality quirks and the only thing that separates the personality quirk from a full-blown disorder is whether the quirk negatively impacts your day-to-day life. My obsessive movie watching and book reading are such examples of my quirks, along with my little OCD ritual I do when I exit my car (making sure lights are off, radio off, vents off, keys in hand, and then exit). Apparently this is very amusing for my passengers to watch and especially if they interrupt me because I have to start from the beginning again. J

But I digress, I was talking about movies. I have been very disappointed in the movie releases in the past few years. I don’t understand why there are so many remakes. It is one thing to remake a movie originally filmed 50 or more years ago, and even then, depending on the film, I may not be pleased that a remake is taking place. In my opinion, there is never a reason to remake an Alfred Hitchcock movie. However, remaking movies from the 1990s is just plain nuts. Some remakes are completed with an even shorter time span in between releases, i.e. “Death at a Funeral” (2007, 2010). Are there really no new ideas in Hollywood? And what is it with several studios releasing similar movies at similar times, for example “No Strings Attached” and “Friends With Benefits.” Was I the only one who thought this odd? It seems that if Hollywood is not sending out a remake, it is adding another sequel or even breaking down a story into several separate films (i.e. “The Hobbit.”). There are so many amazing stories out there that would translate well to screen but alas, they are not translated into film. There are amazing writers out there that could produce an original screenplay but yet do not have the access or clout to be heard and get the funding to make the movie. As a movie watcher, this is very disappointing.

Now there are some films that I would call iconic and thus not really appropriate for a remake, however, my lack of a degree in film studies shows here because Hollywood clearly disagrees. Let me start with “National Lampoon’s Vacation.” Why mess with such a great original? How could it possibly get updated and still be funny?

I would like to see a remake of “Gone With The Wind,” but only if the screenplay is written so that the film more closely represents the message and story of the original book. If those changes are not made, why mess with the chemistry of Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh?

So Hollywood, can’t you open your mind and try for some new ideas? Maybe you should step away from your usual contingent of writers and open your doors to some of the lesser known writers. And don’t insult our intelligence and only go with obvious story lines with no depth, but challenge the movie watcher to engage in the film and enjoy a lasting discussion and dialogue to follow. I guess this is why I’ve been watching so many documentaries lately. It’s nice not to be treated like I am a non-thinking consumer, but rather a critical thinker capable of considering a vast array of ideologies and possibilities.

Too Much Emphasis on Credentials?

Something that really bothers me about society today is its emphasis on having the correct credentials as a requirement for employment. We push and push and push for people to go to college to get that college degree and then go on to graduate school if you want to do more. Particular trades also require certificates before someone can be employed. This may sound acceptable in terms of protecting the consumer and ensuring that for example, the person working on your car has some general clue about how to fix your car, however, there is a problem with this. Not everyone can afford to acquire the appropriate credentials. Additionally, not everyone is suited for college. There is no shame in pursuing your dream and not attending college although in terms of the media machine in US society, that is the path to poverty. The fact is that there are many people with college degrees and even graduate degrees who are homeless and/or living below the poverty line. Student loan debt, lack of opportunity, outsourcing, changing technology, etc. have led to a large group of individuals who are over-educated and under-employed or even unemployed. Employers are able to be very selective about who they hire and for how long. Employers may weed out those with too much education so that they can hire someone at a cheaper wage because with all of that education comes the accompanying debt and desire for higher salary. Therefore, individuals who are considered over-qualified are just as likely as those who are considered under-qualified to be hired, and that likelihood is low. Temporary positions are created to set up the framework for employees in other countries to perform the work on a more long-term basis for a much cheaper wage. And that pulls me back to the notion of credentials. One of the difficult aspects of people who are displaced from their homes and neighborhoods due to natural and man-made disasters (super storms, hurricanes, war) may have had gainful employment along a sliding scale among neighbors but now, in a new setting cannot get the job because they do not have the appropriate certification. But this is not only the plight of the displaced, it is a growing problem for our returning veterans. We are finding that veterans who have been trained to serve as medics, helicopter pilots, mechanics, etc. are required to go through schooling about things they already know in order to attain the piece of paper saying they are certified and thus employable outside of the military. That is a ridiculous waste of time and resources. Yes, it is profitable for schools, but at what price is this profit? If our veterans are unable to afford further schooling or if such certification programs are not available in the area, what opportunities do they have? [The Daily Show had a segment regarding the specific issue of employing veterans on October 24, 2012, http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/wed-october-24-2012/exclusive—economic-reintegration-for-veterans ]

For those who know me and follow me on Twitter in particular are well aware that I am a passionate supporter of our troops and veterans. I admire those who bravely served our country, sacrificing their own physical safety, emotional well-being, and family connections to do what too many of us are unwilling or unable to do. And that is why I become enraged when I see the statistics about homeless veterans, veterans living in poverty, unemployed veterans, etc. We ask these amazing men and women to offer the ultimate sacrifice and if they are fortunate enough to return from conflict, we turn our backs on them? Why should businesses be celebrated for offering jobs to veterans when that should be something that goes without question? Being a veteran should not be a reason NOT to hire someone, yet in reality it is. So much negative attention is placed on our military from the various scandals to emphasis on violent manifestations of PTSD. We rarely celebrate the heroes, those who risk their lives for their fellow soldiers and have made it home. So why is it that someone who was trained in the military and served as a medic in Iraq is considered to be not qualified to serve as a paramedic in the US? It is all due to a piece of paper, a piece of paper that society has determined to have weight above and beyond the actual knowledge, skills, and abilities of the individual.

We need to bring this nonsense to an end. We need to evaluate people based on their actual attributes and abilities and not on whether or not they were able to get a degree or complete a certification program. We need to make sure that employers actually take the time to properly train new employees. That makes a huge difference not only in employee satisfaction but in productivity and thus, profitability (to speak to the for-profit camp). This is not a new or revolutionary idea. It is common sense.

Aftermath of Tragedy

In the typical reaction to such unfathomable tragedies, our society seems to follow the same formula every time and every time, we end up nowhere closer to a solution. If anything, we end up with more problems. This is not about just gun violence at schools, but a wide range of tragedy from terrorist attacks to domestic violence.

We always start with the media’s constant recap of events, showing footage of victims, interviews with survivors and victims’ families, and then maybe several days later, actually address how to help children deal with the knowledge of such tragedy. The media machine is in such a rush to be the first to report, that so much misinformation gets sent out into the world and at times, this misinformation gets perpetuated and morphs into justification for further violence and intolerance.

The next step comes to trying to understand the motives of the perpetrator or perpetrators and identifying what precise thing led to the violence. It is rarely this cut and dry. After Columbine, it was an attack on trench coats. After 9/11, it was Islam. After Virginia Tech, Aurora, and Newtown, we see an attack on mental illness. All of this scapegoating does is increase fear and intolerance in our society. Hate crimes against anyone fitting the description of the latest scapegoat rises after these events, even against those who are not truly connected. Look at the tragedy in Oak Creek, WI at the Sikh temple. It highlights our fundamental misunderstanding of the core values of our society.

Our society thrives on a quick fix mentality. Need to lose weight? Take a pill or have surgery, don’t waste your time on diet and exercise even though that is the best and healthiest way to lose weight in the absence of other medical problems. Feeling depressed, stressed, or anxious? Take a pill, don’t spend time in therapy or in self-reflection to try to understand what in your life is making you feel the way you are feeling. Child won’t sit still in class? Diagnose the child with ADHD and give the child pills, rather than have a teacher alter their classroom management and lesson plan approach to accommodate the needs of the individual student. Ignoring the issues of gender in our society, it was the prescription of minor tranquilizers to middle class, white women in the 1950s and 1960s to deal with what Betty Friedan identified as The Problem that Has No Name as depicted in her book, “The Feminine Mystique” and found within the lyrics of the Rolling Stones song “Mommy’s Little Helper.”

In specific regards to the issues of mental illness, we need to tread very carefully. What constitutes your definition of mental illness? If you take mild tranquilizers for a week after you parent has died, does that mean you are mentally ill? It does in the eyes of health insurance companies which then use these prescriptions and diagnoses to deny coverage (but that is an issue for a different post). If you are a victim of rape and suffer from excessive fear and night terrors, does that mean you are mentally ill? What about those who get depressed during the winter months either due to the holidays or lack of sunlight? Are they mentally ill? Limiting a person’s civil rights due to a vague definition of what it means to be mentally ill is wrong. All of this coverage on mental illness and its links to violence further stigmatize members of society. We want people to seek help if they need it and understand that there is nothing wrong with needing some help. Because of the stigma of mental illness, so many people exposed to trauma including first responders and soldiers do not seek the help they need. Humans are social animals and we cannot bear everything on our own. No one is actually normal and if we want to talk about what is normal in society, violence is the normal of our society not a form of deviance. Its pervasiveness is evident.

So how do we respond to this tragedy? There are calls to arm teachers in our schools in the aftermath of Newtown. This is such a bad idea it is hard for me to fathom where to begin. Let me begin by saying that I am not opposed to gun ownership, rather I only support responsible gun ownership. The number one concern with arming our teachers is that we truly do not know how we would react to a situation until we are actually in that situation. We like to think that we would act heroically, but in the words of psychologist Philip Zimbardo, “Heroes are rare in our society.” This has been documented in psychological research over time (see Zimbardo’s Prison Study and Milgram’s Obedience Study). If a child is laying on the sidewalk asking for help, would you stop? You want to say yes. But in reality, how many of you walk past the multitude of homeless of all ages and turn a blind eye? You say you support your veterans, but how many of you actually stop and thank them for their service and ask them how they are, not what they did? Even trained professionals such as police and soldiers may experience panic in response to the rush of adrenaline in a situation. How can we effectively train teachers to not panic, to not think of saving themselves above the lives of others? We cannot. This being said, I am not opposed to having trained, armed security at schools, perhaps even employing our veterans who struggle with finding work after their military service.

Furthermore, while most teachers are honorable, there are still a few that are not and molest or assault students. If armed, how could a child fight back or ever feel safe enough to confide in someone to get help? The bottom line is that by putting guns in the hands of teachers would be exacerbating the situation and ignoring the fundamental problem.

On the other hand, in some cases teachers are also attacked by students. While most would fear students in the upper middle school and high school ranges, it is not unheard of for one or more elementary aged children to attack an adult. If that teacher is armed and the child gets the weapon, what happens then?

Perhaps instead of arming our teachers with guns, we should look at having our teachers and children learn self-defense. Some may argue that engaging in martial arts is further violence but those who teach and study martial arts no differently. Martial arts have many benefits beyond self-defense including increasing self-esteem, self-control, self-confidence, and in the development of setting and achieving goals. It also teaches respect for oneself and others, reduces stress, and improves concentration. These are core values that should exist in every society.

This tragedy was not caused by mental illness or guns. It was caused by the fundamental lack of tolerance in our society as well as the pervasiveness and acceptance of violence as a way to solve problems. We live in a society where hazing is considered acceptable because the victim volunteered to participate and it serves as a rite of passage for entry into a social group, sports team, and workplace, bullying is the way to get ahead in this country, and it is considered better to turn a blind eye or imprison those less fortunate than take a critical look at our own behavior. We need to teach the fundamentals of tolerance and conflict resolution independent of violence beginning at birth and continue to hit home these issues throughout all school years, as is currently done with reading and writing. We want our children to learn to read and write so for their entire school career, reading and writing is included in all subjects for all years. The same MUST be done with tolerance and non-violent conflict resolution. Ignorance is no longer an excuse. We need to engage in a path towards finding long-term solutions rather than scapegoating. Granted this will not solve our problems overnight but seldom do such complex problems have such a quick fix solution.