Sanctuary: Blog

What Really Happened?

Submitted by: Nelson Urena, Faculty, Sanctuary Institute


Along with the rest of the nation, I grieve over the deaths of 20 innocent and precious children. It is these moments that really call for us to be emotionally intelligent and ask the right questions. I learned about the events in Newtown CT, via social media and it immediately became clear to me how shocking and traumatic this event has been for our entire nation. Of all the comments I read via social media the common theme has seemed to be "how could someone be so evil?"

Not immune to the trauma of such event, I also lost center and began to question my safety and the safety of my loved ones. Immediately I began to point fingers at what I thought was at the root of this "evil." It seemed to me at the moment, that we as a nation need to address the issue of gun control, and that there need to be more rules around how individuals gain access to guns. As a result of this line of thought I entered into many heated arguments around this issue, arguments which of course did nothing for me but create more division during a time in which we need to be more united. In many ways I allowed myself to be pulled into a reenactment which our nation has been engaged in since the drafting of our constitution.

It was not until after I slept on the issue that I was able to come to center and begin to see this event through a trauma informed lens. This morning I came to the sobering realization that I had been missing the very point which we, as Faculty of the Sanctuary Institute, stress to be the important issue when analyzing violent behaviors. So I fired up my computer and found the same questions being asked about the gentleman who committed this act of violence, "how could he be so evil?"

One of my favorite literary characters, Atticus Finch, tells us that in order to understand what drives people's ill intentions, we have to "step inside a man's skin, and walk around in it." And so in my state of shock and disbelief about how a person could do such a thing, and what was "wrong with this guy," I took Atticus's advice and attempted to step inside this man's skin because I really just could not come to terms with why and or how such a terrible thing could have occurred.

I think what Atticus tells us is that we have to be able to ask the right questions... "What has happened" to people and communities to lead them to act in such violent ways. It may be too soon to have any answers to this question as they pertain to the incident at Sandy Hook, but what I have learned over years of working in this field is that every behavior has a history. Thus it is important that we as a community of practitioners, citizens, politicians, stake holders and parents begin to look at these sort of events critically and ask the right questions before we premature problem solve and point fingers at what we believe to be the root of all this "evil." I think that asking these types of questions will help us come closer to identifying and addressing the real issues which are at the root of violence in our communities. What really has happened to this man (and is continuously happening in our communities) to cause so many mass shootings in our current history? Finally what can we do as a community to minimize the effects of the toxic stress and allostatic load we all face on a daily basis? Until we begin asking the right questions we will continue to blow out the smoke while ignoring the fire.


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