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JOHN EGGERS COLUMN: What can we do to be less violent?

According to data from the Gun Violence Archive, a total of 115 mass shooting incidents have occurred as of May 7. It doesn't seem like it has been that many, but then they happen so often we tend to treat them like a thunderstorm. It, too, shall pass and they do until another mass shooting happens. They have become part of our daily living or dying.

Living in the United States has become synonymous with living in a violent society. We hear about the violence in small countries like Honduras and El Salvador and we wonder how people can live with such violence. Consider this: the Global Peace Index has a list of the 25 safest countries in which to live. The United States didn't make the list. Iceland is first, Canada is No. 5.

This may explain why Americans believe they have to own guns. It's not safe to go without one. Yet, in Canada, where gun laws are much stricter, they are the fifth-safest country in the world in which to live. The justification of having lots of guns and having a safe society just doesn't hold water. The United States probably owns more guns than all of the 25 safest countries combined.

I was in Iceland several years ago and I can't recall ever seeing a police officer or patrol car. I guess they feel they are not needed. Iceland is kind of like Andy Griffith of Mayberry who didn't wear a gun. When asked why, his standard reply was, "I don't need one."

What can we do to lessen the problem?

As I have said in previous columns, kids don't grow up to be mean. They are not born to be mean. They aren't born with a desire to kill someone or rape someone or rob someone or buy an assault weapon with the intention of killing innocent people. Something changes in them that causes them to have to prove something.

If you talk to 10 different people and ask them why people are violent, they will give you 10 different answers. Oh, they came from a broken family. He had an older brother who was also violent. They needed some drug money. They dropped out of school. They just never had a break in life. Their parents abused them. He was a loner who didn't have any friends. He lost his job and wanted revenge. She couldn't stand being abused any more. There was no discipline in the school. We don't enforce our laws.

We could add many more reasons but probably the reason why a person becomes violent is all of the above. But why do we have to be violent? What does it accomplish?

When you study people who are not violent, what do you find? They are people who work. They are people who have friends. They are people who have some feeling of self-worth. They are spiritual people. They are people who are, generally speaking, in good health or have healthy habits. They may not have lots of money but they have enough to buy food and pay the rent. They usually are people who have completed high school and know the value of education. They are people whose parents or grandparents talked about what is right and what is wrong. They are people who are willing to help others. These people may own a gun but they know what gun safety is all about. These people do things in moderation. These people love their kids and their family and their friends. These people want to live a good life. Harming their neighbor or anyone else would be unthinkable. These people realize that being violent is not an answer to any problem.

I grew up with a boy who died in prison after he committed an act of violence. I knew his family. Like many of us at one time or another, they scraped by. The boy was smart, went out for sports and graduated. A friend once told me that one time when he went to visit the boy, the boy was on the roof of his house trying to avoid his father. I think they were, as you might say, also churchgoers. The boy's father was also jailed for committing an act of violence.

If we could take this one individual and look at his life and determine why he did what he did, we would say that his father was not a good role model. We could say that poverty may have been an issue. We could say that he may have gotten some bad breaks in life.

I am not an expert on violence but for those who commit it, it must give them some gratification. A person's self-worth may rise a bit for a short time and to keep the highs flowing, they commit more violence. So you might say, people are violent because it makes them feel better.

One of the things that all of us who are not violent have in common is that we feel OK with ourselves most of the time. Oh, sure, we get depressed and sad but we have more highs in life than lows in life. We have more things going for us. We have good things to look forward to.

Schools have been criticized over the years for trying to teach kids to feel good about themselves at the expense of, let's say, spending more time in reading or writing. I think the debate still continues but I am on the side of trying to help kids feel good about themselves. I am on the side of helping kids feel like they are somebody. I think we all need to work on that.

To answer the question, "What can we do?" We can help kids to believe in themselves. We can become a surrogate parent or teacher to kids. If we are a parent, we have to accept our responsibility of being a good parent. If we are a teacher, we can make home visits to tell a parent or grandparent how much we appreciate their children. If we want a less violent society, it's up to you and me. Case closed.

Riddle: What did the square say to the old circle? (Been around long?) I hope that I am around long enough to see violence in our communities grow less and less.

100 percent graduation

A local movement is underway to ensure the area has a 100 percent high school graduation rate. State Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, is the most recent supporter of our 100 percent graduation rate goal. Thanks, John, for your support. Spread the word.

We can increase our graduation rate when:

• Parents provide natural highs for kids like fishing and swimming and golfing.

• Teachers make more home visits and have heart to heart talks with parents.

• Citizens behave like adults in front of kids.

John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.