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  • Reverend James Squire

Roger Bannister and Mass Shooting Prevention

Roger Bannister was the first person to break the four minutes mile barrier on May 6, 1954. This goal was chased since 1886. However, what is more significant is that after he broke the record, people were doing it as a normal thing. Over the last century more than a thousand runners have broken the record. Recently Gary Martin, a senior at Archbishop Wood High School right here in the Philadelphia area ran the mile in 3:57.98.

The biology of people didn’t change so what did? Two Wharton Professors, Yoran Wind and Colin Crook wrote a book to explain the phenomenon called The Power of Impossible Thinking.

Breaking the four minutes miles barrier wasn’t a matter of biology. It was a matter of mindset.

When Bannister broke the record, others thought they could as well.

Mental models allow leaders to do the impossible with a no limits on their action-oriented attitude and to instill that attitude in others. It is the essence of leadership. However, life is a two-edged sword. What can help us can also destroy us. We need rain, but it can cause death by flooding.

By now, you the reader, have seen much data on what happened in a Texas School in Uvalde in the horrendous murder of young children and their teachers. We know that America is unique in the large number of deaths by guns compared to the rest of the world. Our nation cries out, “Why?” It is my thinking that the mental mindset that broke the impossible goal of breaking the four minutes mile is the mindset of that person who killed the people in that school. There mindset is not checked because of a way that moderation sensibilities or unthinkable impossible acts is now so part of our cultural mindset. People don’t see it as a moral guideline that can’t be broken. It has been done often so I can do it again is the thinking. It is in the culture like the air we breathe. Ask any adolescent or adult if there have been shootings killing people in America, their response will be, “Of course! Where have you been?” The unthinkable has become the thinkable. Malcolm Gladwell would say that we have reached a “tipping point” from the unthinkable to the thinkable the same way say it isn’t OK to drive without a seat belt. No one argues about that anymore. “Buckle Up!” That’s the new moral normal! However, it was an adjustment in the culture that made the difference.

Once something is in the culture, it is difficult to get it out. You can’t go back and change everything from Columbine on. What you can do is have a broad response to the unthinkable.

Immediately after the shooting, the partisan divide occurred between the Republicans and Democrats about gun control. Either/Or thinking came quickly into play. The politicians on one side cite the importance of following the second amendment and their opponents respond with the moral outrage that focuses on the number and kind of guns. We haven’t solved the problem since Sandy Hook by using the same approach over and over for too many years. Things don’t change when solutions don’t change.

We need to be taking a Both/And approach. Deal with the gun control issue. You don’t need a M4 automatic rifle meant for war. Get sensible controls. Immediately the Republican position will be a “no action position” and another mass murder will occur. BUT DO SOMETHING MORE. Indicate that the gun control is one part of the solution but there are other areas that are important as well (before the Republicans can raise them as reasons for inaction). Initiate!

We need to do a better job with social media both in advertisements and picking up possible problem people. One ad for the NRA is a young boy holding a gun on his lap along with the caption: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” The ad makes the point that the statement is from the Bible in the book of Proverbs. If I can google looking for a piece of clothing, and within seconds get pop ups for that clothing from many purveyors, surely Gates, Zuckerberg, and others can do a better job of policing their social world.

There are only two studies regarding understanding the people who have committed these heinous crimes. More needs to be done. Salvador Ramos who shot the children in the Texas school was bullied unmercifully in school because of a stutter. He wound up cutting his face. Cutters normally cut their bodies to deal with personal pain. When his only friend moved away from town, his life took a noticeable downturn. Nobody noticed? Hurt people hurt people. I have lived in the world of kids for 38 years as a school chaplain. A student can be someone’s best friend or worst enemy.

Improve mental health laws to give counselors more access to students than we presently have. The law has swung in an unhelpful direction. A former student threatened to harm me and another teacher, ironically two who had been supportive of him. However, his mother and I could not get help from the college he was attending to address the situation because of confidentiality issues. Colleges don’t provide parents with their children’s grades either, but they have no problem sending the bill to the parents. Go figure! I was once threated by a person I was counseling during a psychotic episode that she was having. When I called the nearest mental health facility, they had the two questions that have caused the most barrier to help another. Has the person hurt you or attempted to hurt themselves? “No” answers get a response of, “You are on your own.”

When a mental mindset is in the culture, it cuts both ways. It can help us run a sub four minutes mile. It also can create the possibility of doing the unthinkable in killing someone such as a child. If you study other country’s experience with mass shootings, countries that reduce mass shootings are countries that address gun laws. My sense of things, however, is that mass killings are not in their water, in their air that they breathe, and in their culture. That is where America is unique. Hence, we need to change our tipping point of mass killings from something thought possible to something impossible to consider. We need a new mindset like running the four minutes mile. We need the whole enchilada of gun control, social media concerns, mental health laws, stay away from extreme views, and forget Either/Or thinking and move to Both/And. Roger Bannister can teach us more than just breaking the four minutes mile. We need to listen to move forward.

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