Our nation needs to have an honest discussion about fear, not just gun control. Because handguns and assault rifles are an expression of fear.
As a hospital chaplain and pastoral counselor for 25 years I spent a lot of time with frightened people. The last thing that people are able to see, whether lashing out at a doctor giving them bad news, or at a loved one delivering a criticism, is their own fear. The deep, unconscious fear of being hurt, disrespected, alone, or of dying.
Non-gun people don't resist handguns and assault rifles because we hate freedom, deny the Constitution or care less about our family's safety. I resist because I believe having a weapon around makes me less safe. I too am afraid: afraid I will be hurt, disrespected, oppressed or killed. So gun advocates and non-gun citizens have much in common. But we cannot see it because we cannot talk about the fear we share. That we are all living fear-based lives. This is too big and unacceptable to talk about. So we hunker down in ridiculous positions that would not even pass the playground test for civility. A bully steps onto the playground and throws rocks at several students. So we hand him and all the other students more rocks to stuff in their pockets and trust that peace and reason will prevail?
There's another way to do all this. In its search of cures for disease, medical science has shifted its analytical eye in recent years. Instead of focusing only on the diseased, unhealthy and unhappy people it treats, medicine has begun researching people who are well. And also people with disease and disability who still remain content and happy. What makes them so? This shift of the searching eye of medicine has drawn it into broader and unfamiliar territory for answers, such as family systems, meditation, spirituality, transpersonal psychology and ancient/nature-based medicine and healing systems.
I am relieved our nation has begun a discussion on guns in America. But we will need to look in unfamiliar territory to reach common ground. One starting place would be to consult the citizens among us who face the same threats to person, family and property as everyone else but do not have guns. People in the inner cities. People who themselves have been victims of violent crimes yet who still do not own guns. Are they more foolish or weaker than the rest of us? Do they not care for their safety, or their children's safety? Are they ignorant of the violent, unstable people out there? Perhaps. Or perhaps it is something else. Perhaps they have solved the fear-and-fight problem on the inside, rather than the outside.
During one outbreak of war in the Middle East, someone asked the Dalai Lama how he would respond if he were in charge of the whole situation. He thought a moment and said, "First, I would invite both sides over for dinner."
It takes a whole lot of soul work to be able to respond like this to real threats. Some years ago I was attacked by a loose dog while jogging and spent the afternoon in the emergency room getting my ragged leg wounds sewn up. People encouraged me to stop running in my own neighborhood, sue the dog owner or carry a blunt weapon, even a handgun. And I did consider each of these. (A physician I know conceals a Glock in his running shorts.) I was afraid of dogs for many months after that as I ran, hypervigilant and avoiding even smaller dogs I saw. But in the end, I decided I didn't want to live an armored life. I realized I run to be well, to be strong, to experience freedom and to live a heart-open life. None of which I could do carrying a can of mace, a baseball bat or a handgun in my shorts. I had to decide: internal freedom or external armor. I couldn't have both.
Jeff Nixa is a South Bend resident.