I spent the month of February in Hawaii. Yes, I was on vacation, but I never leave my interest in public policy behind. I was therefore disconcerted by my reaction to the shooting in Florida. Word of it came in my various news feeds on the phone.
“There’s been another school shooting in Florida.” I said to Phil as we drank our coffee on the balcony. “Humm,” said husband. We went on with our day. It wasn’t until the nightly news that we made note of the escalation of the horror. In other words, I did not react in my usual news junkie manner and dive into the story as it was unfolding.
As the days progressed and the magnitude of the story sunk in, I was at a loss to say anything about it that hadn’t been said. Gary Eller did an excellent job from a perspective I share – that of retired military.
On our way home, we went through security in Kauai, a small airport in paradise. I stood with many who were shuffling along, throwing our possessions into bins, picking them up again. We didn’t have children, but those who did were having a very challenging half hour.
It occurred to me that Americans, and probably the world at-large, are suffering the results of trauma overload. To varying degrees, we are all victims of PTSD.
Unless we all face the harm that these incidents do to us as individuals, as well as the social fabric of our communities, states, and nation, those who wish the United States to fail as a country will prevail.
Visual media has enabled us to experience the horrors of falling towers, bombings, and shootings in our homes. The news programs spend a lot of time showing the horror of tornados and hurricanes. We see the ravages of starvation and war. All of these images are of the stuff that causes PTSD in the people experiencing them. I am beginning to think that the sheer amount of these incidents and the images we experience with them are taking a toll on our social fabric.
I am using a mental health term, but I am referring to general symptoms rather than any individual diagnosis. PTSD is a type of anxiety disorder caused by specific incidents of emotional or physical trauma. My suggestion is that our exposure to second-hand trauma has built up until we are all exhibiting some symptoms.
Neuro science is beginning to explain the physical changes in the brain that are present in those with the diagnosis. The fear and helplessness associated with too much trauma is being hardwired into our brain’s reasoning skills. Anger is an emotional and physical reaction to fear. It can be said that our overwhelming partisan divides are part of that unresolved fear and helplessness.
Is there hope? I think we can look at our 50th state. They live the spirit of aloha. They talk of society at large as their ‘ohana. Aloha is not “hi”. It is a spirit of love and respect for others. Aloha is a gift given at every encounter. ‘Ohana is family, but it is used broadly. It is not just blood relation. It is how we relate to each other in friendship, business, and political thought. This is not just some kind of new-age thinking in Hawaii. It is their cultural norm. It is not thinking from the right or the left. It is their center.
The only way to cure PTSD is to re-wire the brain once again. From the familiar therapy dogs to the science of mindfulness, people who have experienced trauma are re-learning how to be at ease in society. All of us need to be aware of our own need to be at ease and work toward it. There is no reason why Hawaii should be the only state in the union to live aloha. We are, after all, the United States. ‘Ohana is in our foundations too.