The Week in Ethics: Changing a Culture of Violence

Twenty first-graders, six and seven years of age, were  murdered December 14, 2012 along with their school principal, school psychologist and four teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The 20-year old gunman also killed his mother.

From gang violence in Chicago, to the gunman in Aurora (CO) mowing down people in a movie theater, to the shooting deaths in an Oak Creek, Wisconsin Sikh Temple, to the children killed Friday in Connecticut, communities have been assailed with unexpected  and heartbreaking violence all too often.

In Orange County, CA on December 15, 2012, a man was arrested after firing 50 rounds into the air and ground in the parking lot of a busy mall; no injuries, shoppers frightened and stores went into lock down.

What do we do to turn around a culture of violence that in 2012 has killed so many children, families, parents and innocent bystanders? Whether those pulling the trigger are mentally ill, driven by hate, or so isolated that they’ve fallen off radar, human life in their hands is reduced to a video game.

The right to bear arms for lawful purposes in a culture of violence is so much more complicated than the Founding Fathers envisioned. The U.S. has the highest per capita gun ownership in the world; “America’s gun-related murder rate is the highest in the developed world, excluding Mexico….”

Gun control must be back on the public agenda to discuss and address without politics, along with other issues like mental health that are impacting violence.   After the murders in Wisconsin in August 2012, President Obama said “he would look at additional ways to reduce violence.” The murders in Connecticut two days ago underscore the work ahead of us.

We need a national discussion about ways to reduce violence. It is an opportunity for communities to come together, engaging the collaboration of leaders from local businesses, universities, schools, and all segments of the community to address initiatives and partnerships that can result in further steps to reduce violence. For example, a program in Chicago has demonstrated that mentoring reduces youth violence.

We aren’t starting from scratch here. A few years ago, the World Health Organization did a series “Changing Cultural and Social Norms that Support Violence — what could we learn from that or build off?

Think tanks like Brookings Institute have done research on workplace violence; RAND did community-based violence prevention research — what from these and other research products can be learned and utilized? Foundations have supported a range of grants related to violence prevention, including gun violence prevention; what is the best thinking and how can it be shared and adapted in appropriate ways?

Examples go on and on. The point is we need national and local leadership around national and local conversations about how to reduce violence in America. We need to identify, consider, integrate or build off what has been done that can make a difference if applied in particular settings.

It isn’t about acting out of fear or expecting to live in an armored glass bubble of false security. It is about the act of coming together as a nation to address ways of shifting and changing a culture of violence.

It is about dialogue, best thinking, collaboration and partnership — meeting unflinchingly and head on the challenges ahead and knowing  that working collaboratively we can take the appropriate steps to find solutions.

Gael O’Brien December 16, 2012

The Week in Ethics

Gael O’Brien is also a columnist for Business Ethics Magazine. Her November 2012 column is “When CEOs Self-Destruct: Lessons in Values for Corporate Boards.

Explore posts in the same categories: Culture, Leadership, Social Responsibility

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