Why The Stakes Are High

Ed Brenegar
Consulting Fellow

I want to share with you this week an experience that has helped to focus for me in a new way the high stakes that are before us as we contemplate using wisdom in our lives day to day. It shows why being a practical philosopher is, for all of us, more than just good for our business careers.

For the past year, I've been involved in a project with two local physicians' wives and a sheriff dealing with the issue of media violence and its effects on children. The focal point of our project is an upcoming two day event with Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, US Army, ret. who heads the Killology Research Group (www.killology.com). Col. Grossman is a military psychologist who has identified parallels between the military's training of soldiers to kill - his academic research area - and the conditioning that exposure to violence on television, at the movies, or in video games has on kids. He links this directly to the recent "virus of violence" in suburban schools across the nation. The most recent shootings in San Diego are just the latest examples.

From all I can tell, Grossman is the only one talking about this particular information. His claims have been controversial because they are directly focused on media culpability. But Socrates warned long ago that what young people hear and see can have tremendous implications for how they behave. Grossman's specific claims can also be uncomfortable to hear because they require us as parents and citizens to think differently about our relationship to children, and about the pervasive media influences that affect their lives. Col. Grossman's work has certainly been a wake up call to me, as a parent. And I have found it very insightful.

During an upcoming visit to the two communities in which I live and work, Asheville and Hendersonville, North Carolina, Grossman will speak to law enforcement officers from across our state, a physicians' group, local civic and education leaders, the faith community and, in addition, at two public events.

Until recently, I saw this as a worthy civic cause, and it was a general parental concern for me. But, in a flash, it just became something much more than that.

I'm a scoutmaster for my sons' Boy Scout troop. We have about twenty five boys involved, with about two thirds having joined since I began to lead the troop a year ago. It is a massive undertaking that can be successful only as team effort of many adults, along with the leadership of the scouts themselves.

At a recent meeting, something very unexpected happened. Two of my older scouts got into a fist fight. One of the boys, widely regarded as a jokester who is always picking on others, provoked another boy to such an extent that the victim of the abuse pulled a knife on his tormentor. Fortunately, the fight was stopped without anyone being hurt.

The material that Grossman presents has been primarily a cultural interest of mine that I've tried to share with my sons, but, until that day, not altogether successfully. In the aftermath of the fight, they now understand the full seriousness and reality of the problem of violence in children and teenagers.

I saw in the fury of this sixteen year old boy the pent up anger of a school shooter. It scared me. Not for my personal safety, but because here is a Boy Scout, whose life is filled with such anger that he felt impelled to lash out violently, in a potentially deadly way.

Since the incident, I've talked with the scout troop about character and about how we should deal with our fears and anger. I have spoken very directly with the two boys involved, and with the father of the knife-wielding boy. The two boys have also talked with each other, and have reached a level of accommodation.

Out of this incident, a friendship is actually being born. The boys continue to sort through what happened. And I'm still disturbed by it, because, if it can happen here in our sleepy little town, it can happen anywhere. The patterns and statistics of school shootings bear this out as well. The problem is all around us. And it's closer than we would ever imagine.

Why do I share this with you on the Morris Institute's website? It is because I believe that if the practice of Tom's Seven Conditions of Success and Four Foundations of Human Excellence - Truth, Beauty, Goodness & Unity - became an universally experienced phenomenon, it would provide a framework for people, in their families, neighborhoods, businesses, social organizations, churches, schools and communities, to find pathways to well-being that could avoid so many of the tragedies of violence seen all around our country.

Increasingly, I'm struck by the passivity of so many of us in "knowing the right thing to do" and not doing it. I cannot tell you the number of times over the past few weeks I have heard people say that they have a dream for a better life or a different career path, or a burning passion for some issue, but are "unsure" of what to do, or even that they know what to do, but have not done it. In the aftermath of virtually every one of these school violence incidents, some student or parent has said virtually the same words: "I knew something was wrong, but I wasn't sure what to do."

At the core of such uncertainty and insecurity, there is always a simple lack of clarity and an accompanying lack of confidence. What do I want to see happen? What do I know should be done? This is the first of the 7 Cs of Success - a clear Conception of what we want, a specific understanding of what needs to be done. In any situation where change is obviously needed, I first need a clear conception of what should be done.

Then, if I truly want to step out and take action to bring about change, I need to believe that it can actually happen. I must bring some measure of confidence to the situation in order to succeed. Of course, this is the second condition of Tom's 7Cs, "A strong confidence that we can attain the goal." The 7Cs and 4 Foundations provide a wonderful matrix for building the confidence to do what we know we should do in any situation that needs to be changed. That confidence comes from being clear about our principles, values, and overall goals, which just means that condition number one helps move us in the direction of conditions number two.

I have become convinced the stakes are high for us practicing philosophers, because it is precisely the framework of guidance that the 7Cs and 4 Foundations provide that can help to resolve the sort of problem that I faced with my two scouts. As the days have passed, we parents and leaders of our scouts are now more focused on doing better what it will take to realize our goals for the boys - condition number three ("a focused Concentration on what it will take to reach the goal"). There is now a common urgency on our part to take more seriously in a consistent way the safety and practical guidance that these boys require - conditions four and five (Consistency and Commitment). Condition six - the matter of Character - is at the core of what is at issue. And they all provide for the possibility of condition 7 ("a Capacity to Enjoy the process"). If you're unsure of what I'm referring to here, with all these numbered "conditions,: The 7 Cs of Success can be found itemized elsewhere on this website.

In reflecting on the surprising sequence of events I've just experienced, and on my own thoughts and emotions through it all, I've concluded that it was the many years of thinking at the level of the 7Cs and 4 Foundations that gave me the presence of mind to deal with a potentially disasterous situation in a positive and constructive way for the boys and their parents. Long term, our prospects are bright. They are so because each one of these philosophical principles has meaning and application for building the kind of safe and healthy environment that will produce happy scouts and good citizens.

The ancient philosophers have provided us with great advice that we need to use every day. And, as I have discovered in a very visceral way, the stakes are high for all of us.

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