Three weekends ago there were two mass shootings — one in El Paso, Texas and the other in Dayton, Ohio. I few days before that there was another mass shooting in Gilroy, California. It is difficult not to feel discouraged and to believe that there is little that one person can do to change what is happening in our country and the world.
One of the factors that contributes to us harming each other is believing that the other person is not like us. Believing they do not suffer as we suffer, and do not have the same hopes, dreams, desires for their life. We create a false story about them that eventually allows us to mistreat them and harm them.
Creating justifications and false stories is part of being human. We do it every day. Consider the story you tell yourself about the person who cut you off in traffic. Rarely do we consider what may be happening for that person. We focus solely on our needs and desires and how that person's behavior negatively impacted us. We create a story in which the other person is not like us; they are selfish, rude, or deranged. Also, we believe that the person does not care about us or does not care how their behavior impacted us. So we rant at and about the person.
Creating stories about others happens multiple times a day. When we are not aware of these stories, we allow them to influence our treatment of those around us. Unchecked these stories grow until we lose sight of how alike we actually are. We all desire to be safe, cared for, understood, and accepted. We all feel anguish when people harm those we love. We, humans, are much more alike than we are different.
We create stories about animals too that cause us to dismiss their need for care, concern, and respect. We often use the phrase "It's just an animal" to convince ourselves that our treatment of the animal doesn't matter. Science has shown that other mammals have emotions for the same reason humans do, survival. They mourn the loss of one of their own; and experience anger, joy, and playfulness.
Even if you don't believe that the way we treat animals matters to them, it is important to understand that those behaviors still impact us, both individually and as a society. When we engage in behaviors that harm another, we create a neural pathway for that behavior in our brain. The more we harm another, the stronger the pathway becomes. For example, someone feels angry, so he kicks his dog. If this is what he does most of the time when he is angry, then he is very likely to act out his anger in other ways. It would not be hard for the behavior to generalize to others, even humans.
The FBI gathers information on animal cruelty cases because animal cruelty is often a red flag for other types of violence, including mass shootings. How we treat animals and each other matters.
We can address the roots of violence by intervening in the way we think about and interact with all beings. At Pecan Creek Ranch we challenge the stories that individuals tell about themselves and others, and through experiential equine assisted psychotherapy, individuals learn how to create healthy interactions and relationships with themselves and others. So there is hope! Every time we choose connection over these stories that separate us, we are making the world a safer place. It starts with you and me. Our community and the world is changed and made safer one connection and one person at a time.
Photo by Jonas Vincent on Unsplash