Domestic attacks and terror come in many forms. Since 2009 in the U.S., there have been approximately 40 deaths of military personnel and civilian contractors on our military installations that were each perpetrated by a single gunman. This is heartbreaking and destabilizing, at the least. The truth is that there are only two adaptive responses to this evil. The first response must be a well-crafted and comprehensive plan to make military installations and the general public as secure and protected as possible. There are serious minded experts in this field that should take the lead on working with lawmakers, military leaders and law enforcement to develop this plan, but the general public must respond and be part of that debate. This will be an ongoing process of vigilant evaluation and adaptive adjustments that will have many moving parts. Committing to this process with our resources is an absolute necessity, but is not sufficient. The debate, like all aspects of life, will range from pertinent factors that are on target and can lead to adaptive adjustments, to distracting factors that completely miss the target (e.g. gun laws to control what cannot be controlled by laws).
The second response requires an honest look at our culture and more specifically our institutions of family, religion and education. Of course the primary institution that is responsible for teaching and modeling principles that incorporate our value system is the family. But we need to partner with our religious and educational institutions to support and reinforce our chosen value system. To say that we’ve dropped the ball on this responsibility is one of the great understatements of our time. Modernity with its increases in demands and stressors placed on individuals and institutions is certainly part of our external reality. While we can make some changes in our environment that can soften the blow of these demands, we will never be able to regulate all of these external factors.
Just as with individual human development, society must acquire internal mechanisms that are based on core and unchangeable principles that allow us to adjust to the external pressures. Those internal values transcend the external pressures and become the regulators of individuals and society at large. So far, these ideas are very philosophical and at that level we may all agree to some extent on the two responses as a way to keep our military installations safer. But, let’s get very practical about a missing important skill-set that can make a significant difference in our safety. We can talk about values all day long, but without the necessary skills to incorporate sound values we are left with greater conflict and extreme reactions that come with conflict.
Conflict resolution and management skills are the only means of successfully adhering to the value of fairness and mutual respect. When we fail to teach these skills in our homes, schools and in our religious institutions we are left with mostly extreme behaviors to attempt to deal with our differences. The other cultural reality of recent times, especially, is that we are not paying much attention to the alienated and disenfranchised male youth that are targets for radicalization from extreme individuals and their radical thinking. Again, this is a result of the disintegration of our teaching institutions (family, education and religious).
In short, we need a renewed effort to focus on the two things we can do will make our military installations, as well as all our military personnel who wear the uniform in public places, safer. Assaults and terror will always be with us. Our best bet is to increase security measures to our best ability and to actively teach our best values and the accompanying skills for living in harmony, in spite of our differences.
• Gary M. Barnard, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in San Antonio, Texas, and author of “Becoming a Power Parent: Seven Guiding Principles for Creating a Healthy Family,” Thepower-parent.com.