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Lew Sitzer: The worst could happen here

We have seen the signs of violence emerge in our towns as our political extremes widen. We have witnessed the many mass killings that have occurred in so many communities in our nation. As Gov. Gavin Newsom lately exclaimed, “ What the hell is happening to our country?”

It is a question worth asking. What conditions are pushing some toward violence and killing? We are hearing rhetoric in social media and news reporting that encourages and incites some people to act out.

As the temperature literally and politically rises, rather than coming together as a community and society, we are coming apart. Why?



We are experiencing the stress of lockdowns and pandemic restrictions. We are feeling the pinch of job and business loss. We are experiencing the disorientation of conflicting opinions about science and facts and the uncertainty of where we are heading. In other words, there is more stress and fear in our lives.

As a country, the USA has been fortunate as a safe and secure island fortress where many of us have felt protected. Our wars, World War I and World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Afghanistan have been fought elsewhere.




Only the Civil War has divided us so dramatically. Since the 9-11 attack, we have come to realize how vulnerable we are. That attack united us as a nation. Now, with the pandemic, we feel our divisions. Why are we so divided, perhaps as much as we were back then, during Civil War times?

I was a civilian in the Vietnam War, spending two years in Laos working with displaced refugees from the war until the village in which I lived was bombed by mistake by the U.S. Air Force. That tragedy went unreported. Soon after the bombing, the assassination of my American colleague working in a neighboring village caused me to return home.

In that conflict, I experienced the war first hand and realized that the war was a form of insanity, one that unfortunately is all too often repeated and that given certain conditions our species is vulnerable to a downward spiral of violence that could descend into a sort of madness. My hunch is that we, now, as individuals and communities, are experiencing such conditions and expressions of that descent.

I suggest we begin to look at what is happening in our country and elsewhere, as a kind of societal mental illness and begin to treat it as such.

As a parent and retired teacher, I often think of the classroom or behavior at home and consider what I have done to cope with behavior that is out of control and needs my attention and care.

I try to calm down, take a few breaths, calm my language, not be in a hurry to react, remove instruments of violence and seek help when needed. When appropriate, I caution friends and family to do the same.

In the same way, I would approach our community in ways that encourage restraint and enlist religious, political and community leaders along with therapists and elders to add their counsel.

I would appeal to law enforcement, media and institutions to intervene to calm the waters and investigate. Identifying the problem is the first step in addressing and solving it.

We are not in normal times. and so we need to find paths to guide us. No one who has experienced war would want it to happen again. No one who has experienced community violence or mass shootings wants that to happen here or elsewhere.

We need to remember that most people are not violent. Most folks want to live their lives in peace. Most people know the difference between right and wrong. But as a society, we have lost our way and we need to be mindful in remembering that unless we exercise restraint and moral wisdom, violence can and will be released. It can be a slippery slope.

Lew Sitzer is a retired high school history, psychology, photography teacher (Nevada Union, Bear River, Sierra Mountain and Woolman School). He lives in Nevada City.

 


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