By Suzanne C. Doherty, Ph.D.

The last two weeks have seen many observations and opinions about the unspeakable violence committed against the very young children and the adults who tried to defend them in Sandy Hook. An underlying theme to many of the points of consideration seems to be the growing comfort we have as a society with the idea of violence as entertainment whether seen on the big screen, the use of assault weapons for fun, or playing graphically violent video games. We also must consider the potential connection of the effect of violence on developing brains and subsequent mental health issues.

I am a card carrying “Grandmother for Peace” and, at the same time, am an example of how our society may have become increasingly desensitized toward and complicit in promoting violence. Some weeks ago, without a moment’s thought, I agreed to finance a paintball expedition for a preteen grandson’s Christmas gift. The Sandy Hook tragedy brought me to my horrified senses. I was shocked by my own complicity in facilitating a “game” in which people stalked other people in order to shoot them, albeit with paint — but shoot them nonetheless. I could not in good conscience follow through with this particular gift to my beloved grandson upon whose birth I pledged devotion to promoting peace.

When I explained my dilemma, my daughter agreed to “trade” gifts with me. We had a long conversation about many things that day: our shared horror about the tragedy; worry for our children; the problem of violence and also recognizing there is entertainment violence with a small “v” (I acknowledge that paintballing is probably on this level) and that with a big “V” (endlessly playing so called “splatter” video games.) We talked about being a parent and where to draw lines that honor our own life principles and also respect our children’s need to “fit in” their peer culture. We talked about the concept of desensitization and how this can’t be good for the long term well-being of society.

A couple of days later, my daughter shared with me that our conversation had helped her clarify her thinking about a dilemma of her own. She revealed that she had earlier succumbed to her son’s pleas and, with some misgivings, had bought one of those big “V” video games for him for Christmas. Our conversation caused her to re-think this decision and to get clear about where to draw her own parental line. She explained that she was comfortable enough with an occasional paintballing expedition, especially as this was something he enjoyed doing with his Dad. My daughter also told me that, while she did not intend to forbid him to play the violent video games, she realized she did not want or need to facilitate his doing so. The game would be returned to the video game store. AND, she told me, she would have a serious conversation with her son about why she opposed these games in their home.

“Let there be peace in this world and let it begin with me.” My small experience brought back to me this simple truth. If we expect to make a change in our culture of violence, we must begin by each one of us looking inward to check how we tolerate and even, unwittingly perhaps, promote violence. My story also speaks of the power of community…that when I stand clear about how to live true to my own life principles and engage in conversation with those who inhabit my world– and they with me– we together begin to shape a different reality. I have visions of my grandson perhaps extending the influence of his family ethic into his own peer group. That may be way too optimistic, but I know that at least he will have his personal community at his back and promoting values that are life affirming.

There is also hope in this story, that from one small community rippling out to the next bigger one, we can bring about the change in our culture that leads away from violence and toward a more gentle way to walk upon this earth.

Written in the aftermath of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 30, 2012.