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The Bridge to Humanity: Dr. Adam Sowa on Preventing Mass Shootings

Continued interview with Dr Adam Sowa, Ph.D

Section One of this interview is found in Circles of Caring: Dr. Adam Sowa on Preventing Mass Shootings

Dr. Adam Sowa, Ph.D.“It’s important to be open with teenagers about family problems,” said Dr. Adam Sowa, continuing the theme of the centrality of the family.

“Sometimes families try to keep problems quiet.  Nobody in the family talks about it.  But teenagers know what’s going on.  When nobody talks about it, they feel like people are trying to hide things from them, and they find that offensive.  They ask, “Do you think I’m stupid, that I don’t know this is happening?”  But they don’t know what to do with it.  That makes it ripe for carrying on the pattern, especially when it involves substance abuse.”

Predicting a Shooter

I asked Sowa what advice he had for neighbors and families and others on how to spot that one person in 20 million who is at risk of committing mass violence.  There are the usual signs, such as cruel treatment of animals and smaller children, increasing isolation and depression, and more.  His answer surprised me.

“When they’re still kids, then it’s probably counterproductive to predict.  They still have the whole range of possibilities in their future, with varying probabilities.  If we’re too eager to categorize kids, then we end up imposing the categories on them, and prematurely cut them off from their future potential.”

His answer surprised me.  “When they’re still kids, then it’s probably counterproductive to predict.  They still have the whole range of possibilities in their future….”

Dr. Sowa’s response reminded me of two boys I knew in the 1970s, two brothers.  They were cruel, sadistic.  They tortured and killed cats and dogs in shocking ways.  Everyone expected them to die in prison.  One is now a preacher, and the other is a CPA, both happily married, stable dads.  Their father had been crazy with grief and anger after their mother’s death, and had taken it out on the boys.  Once he passed away, they stabilized quickly.  Nobody could have predicted that.

Sowa continued.  “On the other side, though, once it gets to be really disturbing, and you start to see more clear signs that this kid might well end up becoming violent, then of course the problem is a lot more difficult.  Getting people involved becomes less manageable.  So does mobilizing our communities.  But that’s when it’s most critical.”

Political Solutions Can’t Fix This

“One of the things that drives me nuts about political solutions is they keep trying to fix the whole problem. It’s too big and amorphous. I don’t believe it can be done politically.  You can’t fix the whole problem all at once.  You work around the edges. You can’t legislate it, you can’t do something to an entire population. People are individuals, and you have to treat them as such. You can’t mash them into categories.  They need one-to-one connection. Someone has to care about them. They have to feel that they matter.”

 “The only way to do it effectively is to see that person as having worth, possessing value.  I’m a believing Christian, and if I were to put it in Christian terms, I would say, we have to remind ourselves that Christ died for him, too.”

“The only way to do it effectively is to see that person as having worth, possessing value.  I’m a believing Christian, and if I were to put it in Christian terms, I would say, we have to remind ourselves that Christ died for him, too.”

“In more secular terms, I would point to one of the most robust findings in 50-odd years of literature about resilience.  Resilience is what makes some kids turn out well despite significant risk factors like poverty, abuse, delinquency, etc.   The findings show that a close positive and lasting relationship with an older friend, mentor, relative, clergy, etc., is the most powerful protective factor in children’s lives.”

The Bridge to the Rest of Humanity

Dr. Sowa referred to the story about Mother Theresa.  A journalist pointed out that no matter what she did, there would still be poverty.  She agreed, but said, “I can make a difference for this person.”

“The reality of the mental health profession is that there are so many influences on this issue culturally that you can’t have control, can’t get your arms around it.  But for every person in our communities, the truth remains that by simply making a connection with someone, we may be providing the bridge they need to the rest of humanity.”

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Bart Marcois

Bart Marcois (@bmarcois) was the principal deputy assistant secretary of energy for international affairs during the Bush administration. Additionally, Marcois served as a career foreign service officer with the State Department.

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