In his 1969 book, Love and Will, existential psychologist Rollo May contended that human tragedies that catch our attention can exemplify an underlying malady of the society in which they occur. Using an example whereby dozens of onlookers failed to take any action as they observed the brutal stabbing of a woman in New York, May wrote of our collective inability to love and to exercise our will in healthy ways.
Instead, we choose detached sex and power grabs without consideration of the welfare of others. We live in a society in which college fraternities hold competitions to honor sexual exploits, and personal power is sought through the discharging of semi-automatic weapons on innocent children and adults. Atrocities of violence in advantaged, peaceful suburban communities and the streets of cities like Baltimore signal a social condition that must be addressed.
What is this condition? Hints of it are evidenced in these mass killings of innocents, of a Congress that labors unabashedly to protect the riches of the wealthy at the expense of the economically disadvantaged and middle class, of coaches and bishops who fail to protect children from sexual abuse, and of gun control opponents who blame the supporters of gun control for the mass killings. If only the principal was equipped with an automatic weapon of her own with which to confront and take out the shooter, some news show guests are contending, killings would have been avoided. We should be appalled at such idiocy!
Serious-minded and clear-thinking citizens will ask, as we must, "What do these violent events say about America's heart and soul?" We must look hard to find an answer to this question in order to redeem our society and its citizens. What if in this search we find a cold heart and a darkened soul?
Guns are a big part of the darkness that covers America's soul, to be sure. We sell guns in some contexts without conducting background checks and provide for the sale of semi-automatic, high-caliber weapons that virtually no one in our society needs for protection or legitimate sport. We take very few steps to ensure that guns are kept out of the hands of those who would do harm.
All human beings seek to matter, to have some kind of effect, to be accepted and acceptable, to make themselves known. Several years ago The Baltimore Sun ran a series on urban gangs in which one gang member described the rush that firing an automatic weapon at unsuspecting victims gave him. To see people scurry and fall reinforced for him how powerful he could be with the weapon in his hand.
Sadly, this is the kind of avenue that too many poorly adjusted, soul-injured individuals choose. We have read about teenagers and young adults who have been rejected socially or made victims of Internet ridicule because of their peculiarities — or for no reason at all — and have taken the lives of others or themselves.
So, while we seek to take serious steps toward gun control, we also need to find a way to find our soul and to heal it. This is a task that we all must undertake, and we must insist that our leaders follow suit. We must find a way to help all citizens matter and have the opportunity to have a positive effect, whether through providing adequate opportunities to work, to be afforded a good quality education, or to receive the mental health care that is needed.
The U.S. is considered an individualistic society that values individual accomplishment, in contrast to collectivistic societies that focus more on the common good. I fear that our society has become too focused on individual accomplishment to the point where we have become individual manipulators and exploiters. We are focused on acquiring power while rendering others powerless. This is a path that signifies a loss of soul.
On the path to truly caring about all citizens is where we will find our soul. We know the way, but do we have the will?
L. Mickey Fenzel is a professor at Loyola University Maryland and a psychologist. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.