Commentary from our Current Members

Reflecting on the violence and natural disasters in the U.S. and abroad.

By Ani Kalayjian, Joel Dvoskin, PhD, ABPP, and Jeffrey Mio

In July of this year, the newsletter editor asked you for your long paragraphs, poetry, images and videos. Specifically, the request said, “We are in a different place this year as the numbers of persons who died at the hands of a sole shooter are unprecedented. My colleagues and I lost one of our sophomore students in the Orlando shooting. We were deeply hurt, and the pain still resides with the subsequent shootings not long after. It seems that there is a fog or tension that is drifting, and some of us are trying to see clearly, speak clearly about what is happening. Our words seem to be failing the residue of emotions that appear to be steadily building. Please use this comment form to give substance to whatever you are experiencing at this time.”

The responses from our members are displayed below in the form of poetry and commentary.

Thank you, Ayiti, for opening our hearts and minds

by Ani Kalajian

We are back from our Meaningfulworld Humanitarian Mission,
It was our 11th Mission in Haiti for community healing,
Resilience, EQ, transforming violence,
To establish Peace and Forgiveness Gardens,
And we started a new campaign to keep Haiti healthy and happy.
“Ayiti se lakay mwen,” Haiti is my home.

Once again, I am sequestered in my comfortable, safe home,
Experiencing the extreme high of enjoying daily comforts;
I feel endlessly grateful to have consistency of basic amenities —
Unlike in Haiti — such as air-conditioning, electricity, clean running water,
Flushing toilets, an abundance of food, and a bug-free house.
I'm also mindful of my freedoms of thought, expression, and interdependence…

I experienced scorching heat and humidity, feeling temperatures of over 110°F.
I traveled on roads with holes as big as a vehicle, which stops traffic and creates chaos;
I witnessed women with their voluptuous bodies,
Rolled-up skirts, and bosoms partially covered
Sitting on the ground or squatting all day long,
Just to sell a dozen mangoes, bananas, or pineapples.

Their sweat was not dripping but rather gushing down their bodies,
While they seemed to glisten in the blistering sunshine;
They showed no emotion: despondence, maybe apathy,
With urgency to sell, pretending as if all is ok;
In fact everything is the same as it ever was in the last 7 years of our missions:
Thousands of women sit all day on sidewalks and at the end of the night burn all their trash.
They barter to get some rice and beans to take home to their families!

Life goes on, while Ayiti has endured a lot of suffering, such as:
Colonization, bureaucracy, corruption, poverty, illiteracy, and political violence,
human-made traumas that resulted in suffering. And then there were the
Natural disasters: earthquake, hurricanes, cyclones…
Holding their traumas inside, keeping their emotions proudly bottled up,
The people always bounce back, as they outwardly praising the Lord—“Hallelujah,”
and practice Voodoo, healing plants, and/or Buddhism secretly.

The trauma of repeated abandonment and separation has caused
A generalized and learned helplessness exacerbated by Horizontal Violence,
aka “crabs in the bucket syndrome,” which all Haitians we worked with agreed
That not only it is rampant in Haiti, it is also on the news;
That they cannot trust one another, and that they
Pull one another down with gossip, envy, and greed.

We taught them about compassion, for the self and for one another.
We reminded them about their resilience, their strength to be first to abolish slavery.
We reviewed the impact of Horizontal Violence, and how violence of any kind
Begets more violence and forces us to pull one another down.
Pulling one another down, we bury ourselves alive.
We succumb to the dark side of the human condition.

We used candles to demonstrate how empathy is healing.
We used natural essences to demonstrate the healing powers of Mother Earth.
We used flower remedies after they were terrorized at gunpoint.
We showed them how to manage their emotions through EQ.
We role-modeled assertive communication and expression of feelings,
Reinforcing that we are not our emotions and our emotions are not us; and
We moved their bodies and showed them breath-work to alleviate their physical pains.

We shared our emotions, to show how the release lightens our load.
We then can fly high, with less weight pulling us down into the abyss.
We hugged them with unconditional love,
While they cried in our arms and shared:
“You opened my heart; I thought I could never feel again. Thank you!”
“Through your workshops over the last 6 years, I have transformed, and enjoy where I am!”

Thank you, Ayiti, for opening our hearts.
Thank you, Haiti, as you have opened our minds.
Thank you, Ayiti, for your commitment to change.
And thank you for embracing a journey of healing, both inside and out.
For as we believe at Meaningfulworld,
When one helps another, BOTH become stronger!

Anonymous Comment

Faith and belief are two different words to many people and can be defined as trust, confidence or accepting a statement as truth in many dictionaries, encyclopedias and search engines. Both are used as synonym for one another and these two words have so much in common in these trying times. No matter where we are from on this planet, there has inevitably been some form of faith or belief presented to us; however, it has always been our decision to make a choice as to what we believed in or accepted. This still holds true today and each person should look within themselves and make decisions regarding those situations from their experience, education, geographic region, environment, ethnicity, age, gender, etc., and determine how it pertains to their lives. Those incidents that have occurred and are still happening around the world, for me personally, have tested both my faith and belief. I have challenged myself to seek strength in whatever form or fashion that made sense to me, but I found myself falling back to my faith and beliefs that was taught to me throughout my life and the experience that I have had interacting with others. In essence, I believe that each of us have the necessary tools to cope with those situations, based on reflecting over our life. However, there are times when assistance is needed and my challenge to trained professionals: "Be there to help guide those in need through this difficult process that will be beneficial specifically to that person". Save this world.

Comment by Joel Dvoskin

The media's focus on spectacular "mass shootings," and their inaccurate portrayal of mass shooters as "mentally ill" have badly misled the American public. According to research, mass homicides account for about one percent of gun deaths, and mental illness accounts for about 4 percent of serious violent crime in America (see the work of Jeff Swanson for citations.) Even more importantly, the single-minded focus on gun homicides has ignored the far more serious problem of gun suicides. (Last year, there were about 11,000 gun homicides, which is a tragic truth, but there were more than 19,000 gun suicides.) The focus of people with serious mental illness has also blinded us to the far more serious problem (at least as it applies to gun violence) of situational crises characterized by extreme despair, often accompanied by anger and intoxication. On a related note, the extremism — on both sides — that has characterized gun debates in America have virtually precluded any real conversation about how we can live more safely with all of these guns. Gun advocates scream that guns are good, and gun control advocates scream that guns are evil. No one listens and no one ever seems to change their mind. Is this any way to conduct public discourse? APA has adopted a policy on preventing gun deaths that everyone should read. It argues for a sensible public health approach to preventing gun deaths, one that is founded in scientific research and mutually respectful dialogue. Specifically, APA has taken issue with the near-prohibition of federally funded research on guns, gun violence and gun deaths. Intentional ignorance is a horrible way to make public policy and laws, and congress must fund and encourage even-handed, objective scientific research on guns and gun deaths. I am hopeful that recent, highly publicized and tragic events will not lead us into more acrimony, but instead will initiate some heartfelt listening to opposing points of view, with a renewed dedication to improved social science research on how to make America safer.

Comment by Jeffrey Mio

I was receiving an award from my university, and they allowed me to speak at the commencement ceremony for our college. This ceremony was the day after the Orlando shootings, so I told my college dean that I was going slightly off the script I had submitted several weeks before the ceremony to address the Orlando shootings. I was surprised that I was the only person who spoke at the ceremony to acknowledge the shootings. After the attack against the police in Dallas, I submitted the following to the Los Angeles Times editorial page. At this point, I do not know if these comments will be published, but I tried to strike a balance between acknowledging the tragedy of the ambush with the context within which it occurred: 

In the aftermath of the horrendous killings of five Dallas law enforcement officers, the wounding of nine others, and countless others who have been terrified by these shootings, I had listened to many analysts who have made the ironic observation that the Dallas Police Department had been a model police department. It had taken the lessons learned from recent years regarding civil unrest due to the various high profile killings of African-Americans such as Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York City, and it implemented community policing programs that had officers closer to the public and work cooperatively with its citizens. In fact, the Dallas protest over the recent killings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile in Minneapolis, Minnesota, was seen as a peaceful model for the nation before Micah Xavier Johnson decided to express his sick view of the world and attempt to kill all white police officers. As I was listening to these analysts discuss this irony, I had two reactions. My first reaction was a great deal of respect for Dallas Police Chief David Brown. The changes he implemented in the Dallas Police Department was informed not only by the high-profile killings identified above, but also by losing both his police academy classmate and partner and his son to gun violence, with his son suffering from bipolar disorder and being high on PCP and killing both a civilian and a responding police officer before he was shot and killed. Brown's changes to the Dallas Police Department seemed to have been effective, as police shootings have gone down significantly since the implementation of the new program and training. My second reaction was to connect the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous quote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Just as injustice to African-Americans in these high-profile cases make all African-Americans in this country feel unsafe everywhere, suspicion of the police in Sanford, Ferguson, New York, and other places of seeming injustice make people suspicious of the police everywhere. Of course, I will never know what was exactly in Johnson's mind, although he did express his hatred for white people, particularly white police officers, in his negotiations with the police before he was killed in the standoff. He did not make a distinction between what appeared to be a model police department and dedicated officers of all races and what was perceived to be unjust police officers in other jurisdictions. Until police departments across the country can demonstrate their understanding of the suspicion of its citizens of color, all police officers are subject to the broad generalizations caused by the actions of the few perceived to be unjust.