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Violence Is Not an Option

When we fail in life, the solution is not to turn to guns

We all fail in life.  The question is: How do we respond to our failures?

And the answer is that we must respond peacefully, with character, by recognizing that we may be doing some things wrong and that we may need to reconfigure our lives.

After Thursday’s mass shooting, in which a male student at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, Calif., “celebrated” his 16th birthday by shooting five students, killing two and himself, I have come to believe that the most important thing that adults can tell young people in this country is that life has value even when we encounter setbacks or failure.

Some people, young and old, may believe that their lives are ruined because they have a small number of followers on social media, a small number of friends in real life, poor job prospects, a broken marriage, a broken family, no girlfriend.

Some may have lost hope because they cannot afford college or health care.

Others may believe that economic inequality, racial injustice, terrorism or climate change, which studies show is the single biggest issue for young people, or any other combination of factors, portends doom for our country and the world.

Yes, the planet has severe problems, including some that might seem existential, but we, as homo sapiens, are here to use the sapience that we have in order to heal, not destroy, life or the planet.

Our country and our celebrity culture often seem to promote shallow values, and our president is corrupt and treacherous, but these sad truths should not prevent us from realizing that there is a path forward. 

Without sounding too sappy, we all have the ability to build alliances, create art, become more involved in communities, connect with others in a safe and positive way, and come up with healthy solutions for our lives, for our country and for the earth.

A few days ago, in a separate story, the L.A. Times reported that nine students had died this semester at USC.  It was not clear how many of those students had died at their own hands or due to accidental drug overdoses.

What is clear, though, is that suicide is the second highest cause of death among young people, aged 10-34 in this country, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.  And an increasingly high percentage of college students suffer from depression (more than 30%) and anxiety (roughly 50%), as per a recent study by the American College Health Association.

There are no doubt many reasons why our young people feel alienated, scared and stressed out about their futures.  Many teens and young adults do spend too much time on social media, obsessing about comparison metrics.  And when they watch TV or go on social media and see who temporarily serves as our commander-in-chief, they might believe that the world values bullying, cheating and lying.

No one should believe that.

What we should value is the honor, courage and integrity of career professionals, foreign service officers and public servants, like William Taylor, George Kent, Marie Yovanovitch and Congressman Adam Schiff, all of whom embody strength, persistence, modesty, hard work and dignity, the best ideals of our country and the world.

I recognize that young people must endure much more stress at school than people from my generation did when we were children and teens.

Students throughout our country have for years now participated in shooting drills, because angry, young men with access to guns have been targeting schools, as well as other so-called “soft targets,” for the past two decades, in particular since Columbine.

Roughly three and one-half months ago, within a few days of one another, we had mass shootings in Gilroy, Calif., Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas.

As I have discussed before, most mass shooters are angry, young, white men, many of whom don’t have jobs, don’t have girlfriends or wives, and don’t have much of an education.

Let me repeat my message to young people and to the rest of us: We all fail throughout our lives, and what matters is not that we fail, but how we react to our failure.   

Consider that Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player in history, got cut when he tried out for the varsity basketball team when he was an underclassman in high school.

Needless to say, Jordan, voted the best athlete of the past century by Sports Illustrated, regrouped and redoubled his efforts.  He improved his game, improved his attitude and improved his work ethic, so that he later made the varsity and then became a champion at the University of North Carolina and later for the Chicago Bulls.

To give another well-known example, Steve Jobs gave a lecture some years ago at Stanford University, in which he discussed how he learned more from failure, from dropping out of Reed College and leaving Apple, than he learned from success; in fact, his failures helped pave the way for him to think deeply about what he had done wrong in his life and career.

Like Einstein, Martin Luther King and others in the Apple marketing campaign, “think different,” Steve Jobs learned to think outside of the proverbial box, to recognize that he needed to change his life if he was to make a positive impact on this planet.  And so he did, when he returned to Apple and introduced the world to some of the remarkable products that we all use.

In one of his early songs, Bob Dylan, a hero of Steve Jobs, wrote, “She knows there’s no success like failure, and failure is no success at all.”

No one likes to fail, but we all do.  And when we do, it gives us the opportunity to determine what is really important in our lives.

Some of us have failed a class or gotten kicked out of school.  

Others perhaps feel that we don’t have enough friends or that we have been bullied.

Still, others feel rejected by young women in school.  The L.A. Times reported that the shooter, who turned 16 on the day of the shooting, may have been having problems with his girlfriend.  

The L.A. Times also reported that the shooter’s father, who had had run-ins with the law, died roughly two years ago, and that the shooter had told a neighbor that he missed his father.

Not one of these facts or any other scenario gives any civilian the right to shoot another person, other than in a rare case of self-defense. 

Of course, we should not forget that the 16-year-old shooter never should have been able to obtain a firearm, a .45-caliber handgun.  Nor should he have been able to purchase spare parts online, through the mail or otherwise, and assemble what apparently is known as a “ghost gun.”

The latter case may have happened here.

As I have emphasized in this piece, a big part of life is learning how to deal with setbacks, how to accept responsibility for our actions, how to cope with being humbled, as well as how to respond if we have been mistreated.

Sometimes, we are part of the problem.

Maybe, we need to reflect on our own behavior and figure out how we can reconfigure our lives in a peaceful, healthy way. 

It goes without saying that young people should not look for guidance from Donald Trump, who famously bragged that he “could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody” and still get elected.

He and Senator Mitch McConnell will never allow federal gun-control and gun-safety laws to pass, while they are in power. 

And Trump’s charged language about guns and violence clearly sends the wrong message to people, young and old, some of whom may feel that they have no hope and no purpose in their lives.

Remember: We have all failed in life, but the key is not that we failed; the key is how we respond to our failures.

Trump cannot be blamed for the actions of an angry, young man.  But Trump’s failure to speak out against semiautomatic weapons and high-capacity magazines, as well as his condoning of violence through his hateful language, demonstrate that he has no honor, no courage and no principles.

Instead of cheats, liars and violence-prone bullies, like Trump, we should all look up to and admire the selfless heroism of public servants, such as the ones I mentioned earlier, William Taylor, George Kent, Marie Yovanovitch and Adam Schiff. 

These men and women do not live by a code of violence or bribery.

Rather, they prize civility, intelligence and true patriotism.

It is people like Taylor, Kent, Yovanovitch and Schiff, who should be our role models.  They will help heal our country and the world.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

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