Home > Blog: Currents & Futures > Anger-Fueled Suicides – A Society Without Dreams

Currents and Futures

 [Someone once said that my writings were “too negative”.  He said, “It seems like Sharif is the only one at the party not having any fun.” 

Then, someone walks into an elementary school and opens fire.  And it doesn’t look like a party anymore. 

I started writing this article with the Oregon Mall shooting on Tuesday.   It is based on an article I wrote on the Kip Kinkel shootings, 14 years ago. I then had to modify it with today’s shootings in Connecticut.  I wonder if I’ll get this posted before it happens again… 

I’ve been saying the same thing for over 20 years.  I really wonder if we’re ever going to pay attention to the real issues…


Anger-Fueled Suicides:  A Roll Call of Infamy:

  • Adam Lanza (Sandy Hook Elementary), 26 dead, unknown number of wounded.  Suicide.
  • Jacob Roberts (Clackamas Mall), 2 dead, 1 wounded. Suicide. 
  • James Holmes (Aurora Mall), 12 dead, 59 wounded.  Captured alive. 
  • Wade Page (Sikh Temple), 6 dead, 4 wounded.  Suicide. 
  • Harris and Klebold (Columbine High School), 13 killed, 21 injured.  Double suicide. 
  • Kip Kinkel (Springfield High School), 2 dead, 24 wounded. Captured alive.

Unless we start doing things differently, the list will get longer.  For every shooter that acts, there are 100, or 1,000, who are suiting up and getting their guns.  Unless we respond to the real motivations, the real pain, generated by a society that does not work, these anger-fueled suicides will become as common as traffic jams.

Who is to blame?  They certainly did not start out bad.  These shooters, in 16 to 20+ years, went from being cuddly, happy, laughing babies and smiling children to homicidal and suicidal maniacs.  WHAT HAPPENED?   

They committed these acts because they were starved.  Soul starved.

Starved, not in the sense of lacking food, but in the sense of an inability to obtain the real nutrition they needed – emotional and spiritual.  In reading his tortured journal excerpts (published in a local newspaper), it was clear to me that Kip Kinkel had the experience of constant soul pain, a profound aloneness, a pain that we find hard to identify but is none the less real.

He didn’t start off life as a psychotic.  None of them did.  They don’t have “bad genes”.  They were in pain, dying inside from a lack of experience of the Transcendent. 

No, I don’t mean that they needed to go to church, or read a particular holy book.  The Transcendent is all around us – and our children are not taught how to connect with it.  When I say that the shooters lack the Transcendent, I mean:

  • A lack of experiences of community with other beings, including but not limited to other human beings.
  • A lack of experiences of depth, of meaning.  Moving through the ordinary world, but not having an awareness of beauty, of love, of meaning, of aliveness — inherent in everyday activities.
  • A lack of awareness of Life and Death.  A knowing that goes beyond Hollywood movies and first-person shooter video games.
  • The lack of a Dream – not just the sleeping kind, but being aligned with a concept, an idea that goes beyond your personal life.

The shooters were in pain.  Soul pain is real.  Our culture, in its ignorance of spirit and soul, cannot recognize their pain (and society’s role in causing it).  Soul pain is real and important — obviously, it is more important than life itself for those who suffer it.

THEY DON’T NEED “THERAPY”.  They don’t need pharmaceuticals.  They don’t need counseling in how to function in a dysfunctional society.  This is not a “mental health” issue.  This is a societal health issue.

I say this from experience.  I was clearly in the single digits when I recognized that something was fundamentally wrong with the world.  Like the shooters, I had no language to articulate the emptiness that sat in my chest like a gaping hole, the sense that I was in the world completely alone. 

Unlike the shooters, I was lucky.  Part of my “luck” was being raised poor and black in Camden, NJ, America’s underbelly.  Being raised in the Sixties, a time of “black consciousness”.  I could label the emptiness in my chest “racism”, and therefore had a focus for my anger and rage. 

The shooters, raised as white, heterosexual, middle-class males living in middle-class towns, had no readily available labels for their anger.  They had no focus for the emptiness, the gaping holes in their chests. They had no consciousness movement.  They had no ideology.  There was nowhere for the emptiness and anger to go – but out.  (Important note:  The labels are irrelevant.  There was NO DIFFERENCE between my emptiness and that of the shooters.  They just had different presenting symptoms and different explanations for their behavior.  Or, no explanations at all.  Trying to put labels on societal emptiness (calling it “racism” or “sexism” or “mental illness”) simply continues the problem.)

Societal Dreaming… 

It is important for us to dream. Research has shown that if a person is denied dreams, they go psychotic really, really quickly. We live in a psychotic society because we have been denied our communal dreams. We’ve been denied the dreams that we hold in common, we have been denied our experience of Transcendence.

At one point, our societal dream was called “The American Dream”.  That dream has become a fantasy, obtainable only by ignoring the suffering of others.  Our young people know this.  Even though the American Dream is dysfunctional, we haven’t replaced it with anything.  Not having a “life dream” is debilitating… ESPECIALLY FOR MEN.  Without a dream, you are just going through the motions of living. 

It is important for us to experience Transcendence.  We feel the yearning for us to become a part of something larger than who we think we are; we feel the yearning to become MORE.  That yearning is what I call a “spiritual hunger.”  That hunger for the Sacred is a good thing.

The “Hunger for the Sacred” is the thing that drives us to community with each other. The “Hunger for the Sacred” is the thing that drives us to communion with the natural world. The “Hunger for the Sacred” is the thing that drives us toward union with the Divine, whatever your concept of the Divine may be.

I believe the hunger for the Sacred is good, but not knowing how to feed that hunger is very much not good.

Most of us in this society have no idea how to be fed.  We’ve created a soul-starved society. We’ve created a condition I call spiritual starvation. 

This is how our society got to where it is right now, where so many people are filled with despair, anger and frustration instead of being filled with Spirit.  Spiritual starvation happens when people are trying to satisfy their spiritual hunger with things that completely lack Spirit; with things that are not spirit-food. This is like eating Styrofoam.  Shaping and painting the Styrofoam to look like food does not provide nutrition.  

In this society, we are not able to truly satisfy our spiritual hunger.  We are unable to recognize that it’s not the new car that you need; it’s that you need to BE IN LOVE, to receive and give love with another human being.  It’s not the bigger bank account that you need; you need to belong to and work for your community.  It’s not the second house that you need; you need to go out and be with nature.

Taking Action?

In the face of our youth dying inside for lack of soul and transcendence, what do we do?  We commission blue ribbon panels to study the causes of youth violence, or we try to control the sale and ownership of guns.  This is like trying to control the epidemic of youth suicide by outlawing razor blades.  In short, the leaders of this society have no idea what to do.

Have you heard any Presidential candidate, Democrat, Republican or Independent, mention our out of control suicide rate?  Even once?  Have you heard any federal or state official acknowledge what is sitting right in front of our faces?  As long as the suicides are quiet and solo, our “leaders” are fine.

Do you think that statement is too strong?  Look closely at our youth; it may not be strong enough.  We have created an entire society that revels in shallow materiality while denying soul, depth, mysticism, Transcendence.  This society created the shooters and millions more like them.

So, what do we do? 

1.  Start dreaming – and not just while you’re sleeping.  What is the life dream that occupies you?  What is the goal that transcends your life? 

2.  Analyze your societal dream.  Is it worthwhile?  Is it meaningful? (You may spend hours a day collecting cat whiskers… but does that mean anything to society?  Yes, people do that…)  My personal dream is to catalyze and live in a world that truly works for all beings.  That dream keeps me young, alive and fresh.  It’s my reason for waking up every morning, and the reason why I can go to bed tired but satisfied every night.  It is a dream worthy of my sacrifice, even the sacrifice of my life.

(Your dream must be more than “I want the world to be a better place”.  That statement is so non-specific, it becomes meaningless.  Adolph Hitler wanted “the world to be a better place”.  What makes your dream different from HIS?)

3.  Share your dream with others, especially your children (or the other youth who are around you).  Let them know there is more to life than a new car and a full bank account.    Let them know, from your own example, that you are not moved to act by fear, but by LOVE.  More importantly: enlist their aid and support. Invite them to make your societal dream their own.

4.  Practice your dream.  Devote time to it.  Practice it… out loud.  Don’t just talk to your “in group”, the people you are comfortable with. “Out loud” means:

a.  Go to the same places as the shooters (malls, movie theaters, religious temples that are not your own…).  Yes… go to Wal-Mart!!  

b.  Pass out flyers that say “I LOVE YOU.  I want nothing from you.  My dream is to create a world that works for all – what’s yours?” (or however you formulate your largest, most inclusive societal dream). Consider it a holiday card that you are giving to a few thousand anonymous friends.

c.  Make eye contact with each and every person you give your card to.  SHOW people the power of a positive dream.

5.  Introduce your children to Transcendent experiences.  Regardless of your religion or belief system, look for traditions and practices that deepen your children’s connections to themselves, their world and the invisible forces at work all around us.  Mediate with them, practice yoga or chanting or mystical dance.  Walk in the woods with them, and talk to them about the psychological, emotional and spiritual ramifications of what they are seeing, smelling and feeling.  Do the same thing with a walk down the street.  (And, if necessary, introduce yourself to Transcendent experiences first.)

6.  At the very, very least — send a copy of this article to every young person on your email list.  And encourage them to pass it along…

Will these six steps stem the tide?  Perhaps.  Or, perhaps we will read words like this, but continue to wait – to wait until it is our child or grandchild who is the victim… or the shooter.

I end with words from the late Vaclav Havel, from his Introduction to “Creating a World That Works for All”:

 Could this be a way to stop the blind perpetual motion dragging us toward hell?  Can the persuasive words of the wise be enough to achieve what must be done?  Or will it take an unprecedented disaster to provoke this kind of existential revolution – a universal recovery of the human spirit and renewed responsibility for the world?



[I will be participating in an Inter-Faith Meditation on 19 December at New Thought Center for Spiritual Living.  I invite you to attend.]  http://www.newthoughtcsl.org/community/services/wednesday-night-inspiration-700-800

[NOTE:  While I welcome your comments, I do not post comments from “Anonymous”, or from bogus email addresses.  Those actions do not form the kind of society that we should support.  The next society will be based on love and community, not snarkiness and anonymity.]

[On the other hand: there may be valid reasons why you don’t want your name used.  (For example: job-related issues.  It’s happened before.)  Send me an email and let’s discuss it.]


63 Comments, RSS

  • Shirlene

    says on:
    December 14, 2012 at 6:14 pm


    Thank you for sharing your wisdom- I KNOW, you are someone who has been trying to fix this (before it happens)…….we need to all listen to your wisdom.

    Keep talking, Sharif !

  • Carol Hunter

    says on:
    December 14, 2012 at 6:48 pm

    My dear friend, Sharif,
    Your writing has always touched my heart and my Soul. Tonight, you bring both comfort and wisdom. For this I give thanks.

    I never consider your writing to be negative. I do understand that you have the strength, courage and wisdom to address openly the most difficult issues of our society. You also work to provide understanding and solutions for responses that make no sense to most people. You are able to understand and articulate the most insightful and touchingly honest solutions for what’s going on in society.

    Thank you as always for being such a deep and real voice of wisdom and courage.
    With love and friendship always,

  • John

    says on:
    December 14, 2012 at 6:49 pm

    Thanks Sharif. Clearly articulated continuation of our recent conversations taken to their next level with new data. Well, as you point out, not new data. Old data that has gone unrecognized again and again. Through our conversations and others like it, my soul is fed. Well fed. And my ability to digest this, my willingness to digest this soul food grows and grows to where I can remember how to smile even with this week’s events. Because my week was not fed just by these acts of starvation. It was fed even more by acts of community and connection that give me the strength to take more actions in service to a world that works for all. Even if it is only in my dreams at this moment, it is still some place. And my dream is connected to your dream and many others. If it is not in my dreams, it will never show up in any place else.

    Thanks for helping me dream.

  • Ted Polozov

    says on:
    December 14, 2012 at 7:14 pm

    Sharif, thank you for a thoughtful and inherently necessary perspective on this issue. My heart goes out to the families of the victims.
    It absolutely boggles the mind how many people are out there right now miscategorizing the problem as mental health, gun control, etc etc etc, cramming and confining it into a smaller, more convenient box so it is easier to ‘learn’ to ‘live with.’
    I side with you — communities, shared experiences, love, dreams, and inclusivity are the values that can take us to world that mere law-making never could (though it may help act a temporary band aid in the meantime).
    Warm regards,

  • Cathleen

    says on:
    December 14, 2012 at 7:31 pm

    Hi Sharif,
    Thanks for the thoughtful blog on this tough topic. I would add, since I teach in a public school, that we tend to alienate kids at a pretty young age with how we address those who don’t easily fit in. Since I’m a special education teacher, I have kids, who by 4th and 5th grade, who already dislike being at school and the messages they get about themselves. Our nuttiness with “intellectual property” being about learning at a certain rate in a specified way, has caused much stress for kids.
    My own younger son, a high schooler, is pretty dis-engaged with the subject matter at school even though he’s intelligent. I’d love to see his active mind be more engaged in something more meaningful.
    So, I do my best to connect and engage with kids at school so they can get that they matter in the world. I’m in the question about what else is possible in a seemingly fixed system. As humans, I hope that we can choose more and more consciousness and awareness!

    • Holly

      says on:
      December 16, 2012 at 2:16 am

      I teach in a private school overseas. Motivating factors are interest, salary, safety… I am in a Muslim country – the fourth one – a divorced woman with a bi-racial teen boy. I am never harassed. We have maximum class size of 15, so kids get more personal attention. There are so many factors at work in the problems in the USA. There could be more time spent on physical activity in US schools – we have two 25 minute recesses for all ages, three for primary school. When I was a child, we had mandatory sewing, cooking, music, art, wood and metal/plastic shop for all students in middle school, and many widely varied sports and activities in high school – from rope tying to kayaking in the pool to lacrosse, in addition to the more traditional sports. I think you could take Latin in our high school, in addition to French, Spanish, & German. Jazz band, architectural drawing, calculus, cosmetology, autoshop, and more. This random violence against innocent strangers did not happen. I am not trying to suggest that if we teach kids languages, sewing, kayaking and wood shop this violence will end, just mentioning a change that has taken place in our educational system, whereby we administer curriculum in a more serious manner that does not suit all children/ human beings/ people. We become more concerned with results than the person attaining them.

  • Brenda Hamilton

    says on:
    December 14, 2012 at 8:28 pm

    I met you about four years ago on a I.O.N.S. cruise and was impressed with how much sense you made. Your thoughts about gun violence go deeply into the heart of the matter: it IS a societal problem. Your words are clear and powerful. Keep it up.

    You might want to check out my website (not yet complete, but you can get the drift.) It is about depth, meaning, dreams and community. My book will be published soon.

    Thank you for your work. Never give up.

  • Steve Solomon

    says on:
    December 14, 2012 at 9:06 pm

    Sharif, I pray to publicly debate you in a way that solidifies BOTH our views and strengthens REAL attention to the core issues of wounded hurting men not getting their needs met…my view is about ’emotional constipation’ and emotional starvation and unmet needs!

    ” ‘Every’ tragic [and horrific event] is an expression of [chronic] unmet needs”…most of the credit above goes to Marshall B. Rosenberg of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) as I paraphrased his words and added strong emphasis to his.

    “These mass shootings are the tragic and horrific results of what happens when every ‘human’ (male or female) isn’t ‘loved’ AND and ‘EMOTIONALLY SUPPORTED’ (not toxic diagnosis and ‘made wrong’ which most label as ‘sick’…that only dehumanizes, especially men who are HEAVILY emotionally oppressed) in their lives and have had horrific past abuse that clouds who they really are which is ‘real love’…I hold no hope that our society will get the lesson that ‘EVERYONE’ matters and that all that man needed was to know he was loved and this would NEVER have happened. Everyone can ‘play victim’ and will only see far more atrocities just like this for many years to come because the lesson is everyone matters no matter what you judge about them. Ever single person must be loved and have their inner-light reflected back to them!!!
    Stop demonizing others and start loving them today, right now!” Steve Solomon

  • Gabriela Melano

    says on:
    December 14, 2012 at 9:16 pm

    ¡Mil gracias, Shariff! Of course, you make mucho sense! Let’s get together again, when you are in the Bay Area. Keep talking and writing, for sure… Love and light, Gabriela

  • Gerardo

    says on:
    December 14, 2012 at 11:06 pm

    Good wisdom. It’s about a dream and values!

    One more for the list Robert A. Hawkins, murder suicide, in Omaha, NE

    Keep promoting your message. It’s needed.

  • Betsy Toll

    says on:
    December 14, 2012 at 11:26 pm

    Thanks for your thoughts and clarity, Sharif. Truly, without addressing the gaping spiritual abyss that swallows human goodness in its maw, proposals to “end gun violence” will be fruitless.

    That said, my personal feeling is that it is important to limit access to weapons – or more accurately, to begin to “de-normalize” the assumption that being armed is normal, healthy, and culturally acceptable, and an appropriate way to live and respond to the world around you (whether we are a lone individual or a potent nation-state). But until we address the much bigger question of how we find meaning and awe and truly root ourselves in love and transcendence as our birthright, simply limiting guns will be like using bandaids on cancer.

    Maybe we have to proceed with both simultaneously, the esoteric and exoteric fields in tandem. You do it and I do that two-track dance all the time — cultivate depth and transcendence, and also eschew violence, aggression, and hurtful behaviors. It doesn’t have to be – can’t really be – only one at a time or the other.

    This world, and certainly this country, needs that depth/transcendence view desperately, even as we broaden our compassion with skillful means and awareness of how actions and behaviors reverberate far beyond their starting points, for better and for worse. The terrible ricochets in Clackamas and Connecticut and Kabul and beyond will otherwise echo down through far too many lives for far far too long.

    Thanks for your voice —

  • Tami

    says on:
    December 14, 2012 at 11:44 pm

    I see nothing negative in this deeply truthful post. Thank you, Sharif, for spreading love. Perhaps I will see you in LO on Wednesday. Peace and Love to you, to ALL.

  • Mary Beth Haines

    says on:
    December 14, 2012 at 11:55 pm

    I’ve never met you, but reading your words so resonated with me! I’ve worked with children who by age 4 were distanced from and alienated toward the world. I’ve worked with men in domestic violence intervention programs who were so alienated from themselves and those around them that it took lots of time to help them even begin to see a little bit. Always the ability to dream to see oneself connected with others, to connect with the Transcendent is critical for all of us. Even some of the most mentally ill and emotionally disturbed have compassion in them, a sense of reverence for the Transcendent at brief times, at least in my experience.
    Based on what I’ve read above, I cannot imagine why people describe what you have to say as negative. It’s required! Thank you for your dream, and thank you for your pursuit of it. I’m so very grateful!

    • Sharif

      says on:
      December 15, 2012 at 9:33 pm

      Thank you for your comments…

      Your work in the world (children, domestic violence…) helps you to SEE, to gain a perspective that is much needed in the world. You know that it’s not about “gun control” or any of the other divisive issues. It’s about our humanity, our values and our future…



  • Johnw993

    says on:
    December 15, 2012 at 12:51 am

    Sharif, your words are welcome, yet they are empty.
    Our nation is failing: All of the massacres that have taken place in the US and abroad, such as Columbine, Aurora Theatre, Virginia Tech, Oregon Mall, Norway, etc, etc. were initiated and conducted by people with a mental illness (as was later diagnosed and confirmed). In all cases they were young men of the ages between 17 and 25, when (Paranoia) Schizophrenia kicks in, often unexpectedly but in full force.

    These are the sons of parents who have struggled for years trying to deal with issues they didn’t understand and for which there is no longer ANY help available. Mental health was never a priority and thus States have made budget cuts and closed down facilities that were there to help these people. We just paid the price for that, once again. I believe this could have been prevented.
    We (as tax payers) bailed out banks and other institutions, at the cost of millions, of not billions, but left those really in need in the dust… When will we, as a country, wake up??

    • nuitgoddess

      says on:
      December 15, 2012 at 8:54 am

      Perhaps the “mental illness” would not present itself if early on needs were met and these individuals did not live the sheer pain of empty, disconnected, lives.

      • Sharif

        says on:
        December 15, 2012 at 10:18 pm

        I agree… and we need to make sure those “needs” go beyond the material needs for food, shelter, clothing, etc.

        At one time, our society built huge housing projects, to provide housing for people who needed it. But, those units were ugly, brutal and harsh — and ugly, brutal and harsh people came from them. We are our surroundings.

        What would happen if we built with beauty, with reverence, with spirit? (It doesn’t have to cost a lot. It doesn’t have to cost anything! Give people the tools and encourage them to be beautiful…)



    • Sharif

      says on:
      December 15, 2012 at 9:46 pm

      John, thank you for your comments. Your thoughtful words/ ideas are in sync with mine.

      I agree with you that the shooters can all be diagnosed with labels out of DSM-IV (the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, 4th ed”). However, I’m looking at something that lies behind the label “mental illness”.

      John, let’s start with our appalling high suicide rate. Then, add to that people who are involuntarily committed. Add to that people who are regularly taking psychiatric drugs (America consumes 60% of the world’s production of these drugs). Add to that the number of people who regularly visit psychiatrists or other counselors. Top it off with people who self-medicate (meth, crack, alcohol, etc) just to make it through a day. It adds up to the majority of us. WE ARE A SICK NATION.

      Yes, it is about budget priorities (shiny new weapons over human needs), but it is about MORE than that. It’s that “more” that I was trying to address in my article…



  • ptery lieght

    says on:
    December 15, 2012 at 1:14 am

    Soul sickness indeed. It is up to all of us to change how we are with each other. Doing radical things that occur to us like passing out love letters, smiling, talking about the real stuff really helps. Each of us has a special gift to give to the whole world. Not all of us need other people to love, but connect to the plant world, or animals, or the natural ecosystem earth world and some of us even connect to the ghosts of our ancestors, and feel love from them through books, and historical events and dreams that come to us.

    Your right Sharif that this is not a mental health issue. The idea of anyone having a personal problem that stems from personal DNA, is a wrong conclusion. Addressing the issue with personal solutions won’t address the problems that we have been collectively creating.

    My solution is; if any of us are going to act from just our own selves is to find your hero path, and get cranking on your personal contributions at a heroic level. Find the impossible, and get going at it. I think will all be amazed with what we are actually capable of. Besides, confronting the stagnation and shallowness of our times is exhilarating, much like Sharif says, .. it keeps us young.

    I find adventure everyday in fighting the oppression directed at homeless folks, and working to undo the illusions that our money makes us worth something.
    We are all made of light and stardust, and are simply amazing.
    I hope you find your magical path that dispels the dull trance of consumerism to a full dream of healing for all of us.

    • Sharif

      says on:
      December 15, 2012 at 10:00 pm

      As usual, Ptery, very deep and insightful comments. Thanks!

      You said:

      “Not all of us need other people to love, but connect to the plant world, or animals, or the natural ecosystem…”

      I agree… sort of. I definitely agree that our connection must be to the “more-than-human” world. However, I see people transferring love, compassion and affection that should go to other humans and the human community to their dogs. They attribute human qualities to their dogs — which means they stop seeing those noble animals as they are, and start seeing them how they WISH them to be. (In the process, making the dogs neurotic.) Remember when men used to refer to the women in their lives as their “pets”? We need to engage the world with authenticity, not with illusions…

      You said:

      Your right Sharif that this is not a mental health issue.

      Ptery, you have influenced my thinking greatly on this issue. You helped me to see how easy it is for society to slap a label of “mental illness” in order to avoid difficult issues surrounding the dysfunctions of society. And, you (and others at Dignity Village) helped me to see that what we call “mental illness” can be “cured” through living in community, not with drugs.

      Be heroic. Do the impossible. Create the future.



  • Lisa RG

    says on:
    December 15, 2012 at 3:27 am

    I absolutely agree with you that this is a societal health issue Sharif. And I believe mental illness is a symptom of a starved soul.

    I believe genocide, slavery, colonization, and institutional racism and oppression are the sociopathic expressions of emaciated souls that are “con-fused” with thinking that power and economic wealth will fill those empty chambers of their hearts. And the impact of these “[chronic] unmet needs” harms EVERYONE. (Can you tell I’ve been paying attention and learning at your heart sessions Sharif?)

    Think of how our country began and the sociopathic history, policies and behavior that benefit SOME, and disadvantage and harm everyone else. The problem is, even with those who “benefit”, they are still being harmed spiritually and emotionally, whether they know it or not, as Wendell Berry points out in his book The Hidden Wound (recommended read by Sharif).

    Racism and oppression are alive and well, and inequity is the order of the day. Since lynchings, and other acts of outright violence, are no longer acceptable, it forces this expression to morph into other forms, such as anti-immigration policies and attitudes.

    Oregon’s “inequity” current event is our governor and legislature wanting to give corporate welfare to NIKE for the next 40 years, while Oregon still ranks in the top 5 for the “hungriest states”.

    We need a holistic approach that starts with ourselves, where we “walk the talk”, and this includes dialogues where we deeply listen and connect to others (especially those we see as “the other”). And we also need to do it on a societal level so we can shift out of this same rut America and the world has been operating from. (See why I’m a member of Commonway and love Sharif?)

    We need to understand where we came from, and we need to start lancing the wounds to purge all the old toxins, and move through the pain of where we have been & where we are so we can eliminate the societal carcinogens. In my opinion, this is a multi-step and multi-level approach so we do not torture and kill anyone along the way. The foundation of this work needs to be set firmly in compassion, love and the commitment to connect humanity. In order to prepare ourselves for this work, we need to work hard to rehydrate & feed our souls, and increase our emotional and cultural intelligence. And when we have worked up to the capacity and ability, we need to go through a truth and reconciliation process.

    • Sharif

      says on:
      December 15, 2012 at 10:14 pm

      Lisa, thanks for your comments. I think you are a wonderful catalyst for the work of Commonway AND the work of the Center for Intercultural Organizing.



  • Larissa Long

    says on:
    December 15, 2012 at 11:52 am

    Thank you for this! I literally cried reading this because it touched me on so many levels. I have always strived to “save the world” and the more I try the less satisfied I feel because I feel it’s unwanted. Your article is right. The only thing I would suggest is to explain what to do when people make fun of you or are vicious and mean when you spread the love. It will happen and it’s important to not let that discourage you. I would love to share this with the readers of my magazine. Is there a way I could speak with you more? Thank you again for sharing this!

  • Karen W

    says on:
    December 15, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    Thanks for the well written commentary. I agree with everything except the “especially men” part. I think “especially people” is more accurate.

    • Bill Michtom

      says on:
      December 15, 2012 at 5:57 pm

      Evidence indicates that the “especially men” comment has validity.

    • Sharif

      says on:
      December 15, 2012 at 10:42 pm

      I wrote a long reply… then lost it! Here’s the shorter version:

      You are right. Both men and women are deeply and negatively affected by this society. Two reasons for my “especially men” statement:

      1. Men are the shooters. Men are acculturated to act out their societal dysfunctions on others; women are acculturated to act out their societal dysfunctions on themselves.

      2. Both men and women need “rites of passage”… ways to test themselves, to step out of their childhood, to know and take their places in adult society. When they don’t get that, the “szchiophrenia and paranoia” labels get applied to their soul-starvation. Once again, men act out this pain by taking it out on the world.

      Thanks again for your reply. I hope this clarifies. We’re on the same page…



  • Catherine

    says on:
    December 15, 2012 at 12:51 pm

    A friend posting this on facebook and I thanked her profusely for it (and will be sharing myself when I am done here). A “friend” posted how this latest shooter would be going to the “bowels of hell” etc. and while reading it, my immediate reaction was of love for the shooter knowing he must have already been in his own hell to commit such a horrible act. In writing this, you have explained exactly what I feel MUST have been taking place in this poor boys mind for him to have done what he did. I get nervous at times, raising two beautiful little boys yet after reading this, I’m feeling much better. While we are a white, middle class family we try very hard to make our boys aware of their surroundings and how everything that we do has an effect on the things around us. We have a small organic farm with a creek running along one side. Because we are organic, we have an abundance of amphibians on our farm, honeybees and native bees everywhere and plenty of native birds visiting our farm daily. We drive through a local wildlife refuge regualarly, practice our religion which teaches of an all loving got vs. a vengeful one an give both boys hugs and kisses daily. So thank you, you have made me breathe a little sigh of relief that we are doing our best in raising physically and almost more importantly emotionally healthy boys.

    • Sharif

      says on:
      December 15, 2012 at 10:48 pm

      You make your living sound wonderful! Maybe you can take me on as a slightly bigger “son”!

      And: please see my response to Karen W., below. Be aware that your children will need “rites of passage” into their next stages. They need to be told/shown: “This society is dysfunctional — and you’re going to have to learn how to function in it!”

      Try to find a HEALTHY Native American community and ask for advice. (First, look at their children… they may need advice from YOU!)



      PS: Someone said, “Hell is not where you go — Hell is what you carry with you on the rest of your journey.”

  • Diana

    says on:
    December 15, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    I agree with you on some levels, but on others…….

    Who is to say that these young shooters didn’t dream their dreams and perhaps these dreams include hurting others and they are just playing out their dreams? I have seen too many people that are just mean and hurtful. They are not this way because others were mean or hurtful to them or they were deprived of some essential part of their life justifying their hurt. They are just that way.

    It is easy to blame society for what is lacking in some people instead of expecting these people to take responsibility for their own lives. There are those those who come from the same family where a sibling does good and another does bad. Then there are those who come from a background where Lord knows one would expect them to have major issues and they turn around that bad in their life and do wonderful things within their own life and the lives of others. Yet others are born with the silver spoon in their mouth and pure adoration and allowance to dream their dreams and they do nothing with their life but cause misery to others.

    Society is made up of many kinds of people coming from many kinds of backgrounds and situations. In the end, we have ourselves to answer to. We create and live out our destiny. Man is given “will” and the means to accomplish what they desire. No one can take away that “will” or dreams, or whatever, unless we relinquish it to them.

    I refuse to blame society for these shooters, these weak beings who decide to leave carnage behind them. They do not simply commit suicide to end their pain, they play out their dream for notoriety and leave a wake of misery. Do not glorify their acts by defending them and blaming anyone other than them for what they have done.

    • Clare

      says on:
      December 15, 2012 at 4:29 pm

      No one is inherently mean and wanting to hurt people. Babies are born full of trust and joy. Anger, despair, wanting to lash out, that is learned. Sharif is right, the root is a spiritual health issue.

      • Bill Michtom

        says on:
        December 15, 2012 at 5:57 pm

        Sociopaths are born.

  • Rev. Dr. Andrea Travers

    says on:
    December 15, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    Working 3 days a week in a minimum security corrections setting and a maximum security penitentiary places me in the middle of the tension between the pain of the inflicted and the perpetrator while standing fully exposed to the events of this week…

    I have found solace and understanding this week at a personal level in the following…

    Violence is outrage expressed from a heart hardened by loneliness, separation, and despair… It is a heart without hope. Pema Chodron reminds us that peace begins when what is rigid in our hearts starts to soften. And that softening can begin with as little as a smile of acceptance. Violence is never going to end as long as our hearts, yours and mine, are hardened in any hidden corner which prevents us from experiencing human compassion for those in need of love and belonging. Both violence and peace are birthed in the human heart. Whether that heart is open or closed has personal, individual, and global implications. And our work is to find the walls of our rigidity and begin to acknowledge these similarities with love, compassion and forgiveness.

  • Bill Michtom

    says on:
    December 15, 2012 at 6:00 pm

    I haven’t read the whole article, but I object to your assumption that the Connecticut shooting was fueled by anger. We have NO evidence to support this conclusion. We have little evidence for it with the Mall shooting this week.

    • Sharif

      says on:
      December 15, 2012 at 6:06 pm

      You may want to read the entire article before commenting. The “evidence” is ME.


  • Steve Robertson

    says on:
    December 15, 2012 at 7:40 pm

    call it anger, call it mental health issues, call it emptiness, but lets at least begin a discussion about what can be done about it, I agree it comes from a society of materialism and division. yes and serious greed and selfishness/self-centeredness (is that a word). Whether you like religion or not Jesus tried to show us a better way, so did
    Buddha, Lets not discuss what people have done claiming to be in their names lets dissect what they taught and try to pass this to our children, even if you dont believe in religion, believe in the concepts. (Yes I personally also believe in the religion), not an eye for an eye but in swallow your own selfish pride and turn the other cheek, I know that is hard but how much better of a life and world can we accomplish if we all strive for that, Oh yes, AND CHERISH YOUR OWN CHILDREN AND TEACH THEM< AND NEVER MISS A CHANCE TO BOTH TELL THEM AND SHOW THEM YOU LOVE THEM!!!!! I have volunteered with children for many years and it completely baffles me how many adults have little or nothing to do with even their own children and how hard it often is to get them to help out even with their own children. If nothing else your children are your future, do you want them to loathe you? Be disgusted by you? be indifferent to you? or maybe you'd rather have them love you and care for you in your old age. remember, as ye sew so shall ye also reap.

  • lakshmi

    says on:
    December 15, 2012 at 9:21 pm

    Brilliant again Sharif. I will forward this to everyone I know. Being around you and talking with you reminds me to devote my life to a higher cause than the typical “american dream”. I am glad to know that your words are able to touch the minds of the unconscious. Upon reading this article to someone who spends most of their time in bars or stores she said it was a good article and asked to have it forwarded to her. She said her dream was to finish school. Thank you for sharing this article and allowing others to use it as a tool for deep intellectual dialogue.

  • Yogmo

    says on:
    December 15, 2012 at 10:05 pm

    I want to thank you and let you know that you have made a difference and an impact and touched lives with your words through me; and my friend who sent me a link to your web site. I sent “Mass Shootings, Anger-Fueled Suicides & A Society Without Dreams” to many of my friends and family; specifically my young adult nephews, who also struggle with anger and frustration. I was concerned that your message would be off putting to my more christian family, and dismissed, but they accepted your written wisdom as a positive non denominational truth and are passing on your message. Thank you again and I wanted you to know that you made a positive and real impact with your words.

    • Sharif

      says on:
      December 15, 2012 at 10:09 pm

      I thank you for your courage in sending the article to everyone on your list, not just those you thought would accept it. It is stepping beyond our “comfort zone” that will begin to unite us as a human family.



  • ted lumley

    says on:
    December 15, 2012 at 10:14 pm

    i certainly resonate with what you say Sharif, that the problem is “a society that does not work” but i feel certain you are wrong in suggesting the answer is as simple as for us to “start doing things differently”.

    the problem stems from ‘one level deeper’ than ‘what we do’; it is our conception of reality, which as you know is very different in Western culture, than in the indigenous aboriginal culture and in the understandings of modern physics which are in accord with the aboriginal culture. we still teach our children [we have built it into our language and grammar] that the world is an absolute rectangular box-space populated locally by independently-existing material atoms/objects/systems separated by void [space is either occupied by some-thing or no-thing, a mathematically convenient view instituted by Newton that persists].

    can you imagine how different ‘this feels’ to the growing child than an understanding of the world in the terms that we are ‘strands-in-a-relational web’ and that ‘man belongs to the earth’, ‘the earth does not belong to man’?

    sure, if the child is in a loving family/community, the notion of fragmentation and alone-ness can be overcome by the feeling of mutual aid and cooperation, where all these independent human machines, as is our ‘scientific world view’, are working together because they love one another, … but what about for those children that find themselves in non-mutually supportive situations? what is their fall-back view of the world and themselves. as it turns out, sharif, alienation is the ‘base-case’ for the Western world view. it is like an ‘original sin’ that continues to ‘haunt’ those who cannot earn ‘redemption’.

    Western thinking has institutionalized a worldview that judges each of us on the basis of ‘our own behaviour’. But as aboriginal tradition and modern physics would have it, the ‘strands’… in a relational web, … do not have ‘their own behaviour’. our behaviours are inherently interdependent, mediated by the dynamics of the common habitat that we are inhabitants in [Mach’s principle]. But without that relational space worldview to back us up, and particularly if we are urban and have no relationship with the land, we are virtually, ‘nothing’ and ‘nowhere’ without the acceptance of others, and that is what gives bullying the leverage to drive young Westernized people to suicide.

    technology is exacerbating the depth to which one can be alienated. one’s facebook friends, email and cellphone contacts can define one’s relationships and conversely ‘who one is’. the hallway at recess, the cafeteria at lunch, the football field, the beach and the run in the park used to be places of face-to-face engaging. this natural engaging has tended to be cut off by stereo earphones, cellphones and a serious attitude towards exercise.

    The Western worldview has always had this threatening ‘end-point’ that is cold and lonely, despiritualizing; … the base-case where the individual can be isolated and insulated by absolute space. This latent threat hasn’t changed things for those of us that manage to stay connected, with a little help from our friends. but the old ambient levels of random befriending in the post-adolescent years have declined along with former levels of ‘spirituality cultivating capability’ while technology and ‘belief in science’ have intensified the stark ‘is’ – ‘is not’ texture of the landscape.

    The alienating potentials of the coldly logical and abstract Western worldview has taken its toll on ‘alien others’, but now seems to be turning the barrel around to target itself. so, i don’t believe it is just about ‘starting to do things differently’, it is about dealing with this skeleton in our closet that is now ‘rattling our cage’ bigtime.

  • Linda

    says on:
    December 16, 2012 at 7:59 am

    Sharif — thanks for this.

    As you know, my orientation is on restoring the ceremonies we all were a part of, no matter what our culture or color. This is my life’s work, and the focus of my book, “The Power of Ceremony”. I’ve spent much of my life steeped in ceremonies, and feel especially passionate about restoring coming-of-age ceremonies to Western Culture. I have done many such ceremonies for young women who are part of our wider community. We’re forming a young women’s coming-of-age group, where skills are passed on from the elders to the girls. I would love to see older men take on doing these ceremonies for boys, but so far it hasn’t happen in any organized way. Perhaps some of the men who read your blog would be interested. It’s really best when women initiate girls, and men initiate boys.

    You’re right that this is a societal issue, but as the old saying goes, “Think globally, and act locally”. We have to do what we can where we are. Rod and I are privileged to be able to go into the public schools and talk to kids. We bring the drums with us, and Rod teaches them songs and lets them experience the heartbeat of Mother Earth. He also tells them, over and over, “You’re all good people — you have a spirit”. It’s amazing the difference that makes in a life. One of the high school students at Cleveland wrote to us after our presentation there and said, “No one ever told me I was a good person before”.

    Imagine being 17 years old, and never hearing you are a good person.

    I just hope that young man remembers.

    I’m not sure what you were referring to when you wrote, “Try to find a HEALTHY Native American community and ask for advice. (First, look at their children… they may need advice from YOU!)” It sounds like you may have had some bad experiences in Native communities. I guess I would say, “try to find a healthy community (of any kind) and ask for advice.” Because in my experience, all healthy communities have some kind of an initiation for their youth. Once upon a time, Native American tribal groups were healthy. Many are working on restoring health to their communities after generations of hurt. Participating in and continuing the ceremonial life is a big part of that work.

    Love to You,


    (Admin: Here’s a link to Linda’s article mentioning this one…)

    • Sharif

      says on:
      December 17, 2012 at 5:21 pm


      Yes, the need for ceremony and ritual is essential to the development of a true human being — and almost completely overlooked in Breaker society. Your book fills a very important gap…

      “initiate” means to “bring into”. What is the young person being brought into? The closest things we have to a “coming of age” experience in the US is when a teenager gets a driver’s license and a credit card. Or, as one young woman told me, “When I first got my period, my mother handed me a box of tampons and said ‘Read the directions’. That was it.”

      My comment re “healthy” Native American community: I am referring to the fact that many, if not most, Native
      American communities have been decimated by alcohol and drugs. The destruction of spiritual/Transcendent-based communities around the world in the face of Western invasion is well-documented.

      You said:

      I guess I would say, “try to find a healthy community (of any kind) and ask for advice.”

      My point (perhaps not clearly made) is that it is important to connect with INDIGENOUS communities. I know you will agree with me: the path of human salvation lies in the re-indigenation of the world. We must return to what was broken. We must be the restorers of the Sacred Hoop…

      This time, we will create a GLOBAL indigenous family! Deeply rooted to our particular piece of Earth, but also deeply aware of all other indigenous paths…

      Thanks for your contribution and the perspective you bring to this discussion!



  • ted lumley

    says on:
    December 16, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    i keep coming back to your site, sharif, because i resonate very strongly with the ‘whole gestalt’ of where you are coming from and your understanding of things. e.g. where you speak of ‘spiritual starvation’ … ‘ when people are trying to satisfy their spiritual hunger with things that completely lack Spirit; with things that are not spirit-food. … which is like eating Styrofoam’, and, …where our best thought-out response to youth suicide induced by spiritual starvation is of the ilk of ‘outlawing razor blades’.

    meanwhile, i have to say, and this is coming from the spirit of trying to find answers that may help restore health and harmony in community, that ‘what we do for children/others’ is valuable but ‘insufficient’. in my conversations with people cycling into and out of psychiatric hospitals, i have commonly heard statements such as “they say that ‘i’m cured’, my ‘person is cured’, but like the other times, that is just a joke; i am ‘cured’ for living in this special space which is full of loving caring rituals, but the outside world is not like this. it is cold and hard and people treat me like i am a freak once they hear that i have been in here, and then i am in depression again, another suicide attempt, and back in here once more.”

    the fact that the teenager commits suicide does not mean that her parents have not loved her. the aboriginal that is taking to prostitution and drug addiction does not mean that native healing circle rituals no longer have the power they used to have. the primary influence in youthful, developing lives is the quality of the living space they are incubating in. the physical reality is that “the dynamics of the inhabitants are conditioning the dynamics of the habitat at the same time as the dynamics of the habitat are conditioning the dynamics of the inhabitants” [Mach’s principle].

    mothers feather their nests and fill them with goodies for the incubating newbies. they make the SPACE inhabited by the incubating newbies into a nurturing SPACE so that the child can take continuing nourishment from the space it is continuously included in. why is cultivating a nurturant space NOT the natural task of ‘community’? if we focus on making the child out of strong tempered steel directed by a central intellectual processing unit programmed with social Darwinism, what will that do for the nurturance index of the shared incubating space?

    the Western world view sees space as an emptiness locally populated by independent beings. The aboriginal world view sees space as a relational presence that all those that inhabit it are conditioning. The nurturance we put into the web of relations is the nurturance we take from it. as the Beatles said; ‘And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” love is not just something that goes back and forth between two people. when people are IN love, love radiates and fills and warms the whole relational living space.

    the problems we are experiencing in our society deliver symptoms that include psychological disorders, but the basic illness is rooted in a deficiency in the quality of the living space. if we don’t believe ‘space-is-relational’ and itself ‘possesses-quality’ as in a ‘strand-in-the-web’ occupancy-experiencing sense, then the problem originates in world view and associated values. like ‘patty’ says, you can talk about ‘fixing the person’ all you want, but people don’t live in a vacuum, they live in a real physical relational space, and if that space starves the life and spirit out of you, instead of nurturing your body and spirit, the ‘who you are’, as blossoms forth inside a loving group that you huddle in every once in a while, doesn’t mean diddly squat. i.e. you have to fix ‘the space’.

    our problem seems to lie as much or more in our Western world view and values, than in our actions that rally so nicely in the wake of each tragedy, but which fail to give lasting improvement to the quality of our youth-incubating space.

    • Betsy Toll

      says on:
      December 19, 2012 at 10:52 am

      wonderful articulation. thanks —

  • Markus Barton Stringer

    says on:
    December 16, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    Here is where the courageous and compassionate awareness of Death nearby comes forward. This is the basis of all “spirituality”. Not as the morose and fearful remorse of unfinished business or attachment to the faults of others, and most painfully, our own. Neither the infatuation with dogma, reactionary gender differentiation, goals for the future achieved at all costs nor self-satisfaction with acquisition of more compared to less … none of this will suffice or endure. The primacy of this day with the Beloveds in our presence here and now is All, and the wisdom to grow into a relationship with our Death as the ultimate task master and indeed, our dearest friend … is Realization. Loving kindness is Mother Father God’s messenger. To be waging wars within and without in the name of God is is, after All, the One who is nameless and That which bears no violent comparison.

    Identification to things in life passes very quickly, the transformation through the mysterious portal of Death, the ultimate quintessential event horizon that gives boundary and vessel for the timeless journey of Love. To share this with all Beings gives great perspective as we indulge in quibbling about finances and fears about our annihilation … welcome it! It is humility, and letting it go leads to freedom unbound forever. Let’s believe in each other, and trust in our Beloveds just as they are right here right now without trying to change them or align them with our agendas in this life. Let’s hold our children, yes I say OUR children … even if you are not a biological parent, give them the best that you ARE … give them a wise, generous, playful, disciplined, and LOVING heart and mind. Share with the youth of this world not only food for their bodies and brains, but food for the Soul … that which is timeless, boundless, infinitely intelligent with the vibration of unconditional empathic Love. Then, and only then, will we be abundant in eternal life.
    Markus Barton Stringer

    • Sharif

      says on:
      December 16, 2012 at 8:36 pm

      Deeply and eloquently put.

      And yet… how many people in this society (adults and youth) would not have the slightest idea of what you are talking about?

      I did an exercise in a University leadership class once. During the exercise, I asked the college students to think about their legacy — when they died, what would they want people to remember as their accomplishments?

      The students were in turmoil! None of them had ever contemplated their deaths before! NONE! In a healthy society, there would be a respect for ALL Life processes… including the transition points into our other Lives.

      Keep saying this… more and more of us are listening.



      • Markus Barton Stringer

        says on:
        December 17, 2012 at 3:28 pm

        Desert Storm

        The spirit cries among the walking wounded,
        stark and strange moods stalk the melancholy,
        in chorus with ancient dusty songs,
        dancing with ghosts
        and great north winds,
        psychic spiritual casualties of war,
        haunted by cold and hunger and disease,
        skeletal phantoms….walking…endlessly,
        multitudes of kinfolk being denied earthly existence,
        wandering deserts of sand and salty water,
        condemned to a parched purgatory
        by those implacable decisions to war,
        to believe in it…
        to unleash a wave of patriotic flag waving,
        cast a frigid shadow of suspicion on dissent,
        while millions starve,
        relentlessly shattered,
        buried and burned alive, or to slowly freeze
        in the witness of the warm and well fed,
        mollified by a technology that comforts
        mighty mercenaries,
        casting glittering spotlights on our stars,
        while we collectively feast
        on the suffering
        entertaining ourselves to death.

        Markus Barton Stringer

  • Amy Duncan

    says on:
    December 17, 2012 at 9:46 am

    This is the best thing I’ve read yet on this topic. I’d love to repost it on my blog, with your permission. It’s a message that really needs to get out there. All I see on Facebook is talk about gun control and beefing up the mental health system…those aren’t real solutions. The ones you mention are.

  • Lynne

    says on:
    December 17, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    I do not know where I found the following, but I saved it. I find it beautifully appropriate in this discussion. I want to thank everyone here for their contributions to the discussion, too. I’m moved as a result and thinking more deeply about it.

    “A poem to honor our home… Between Zero and ONE I’m busy finding the infinite ways that I love you, and if you listen carefully to the Milky Way, you will hear, my angel, that she is busy loving you too. I want you, my dear, to conceive the largest number your mind is capable of imagining… How many cells have been nourished as units of life for humanity to exist? How many minutes in silence have the still-minds of all the planet’s satyagrahis spent to continue the kindness revolution? How many leaves have been kissed by the Sun? How many molecules of air have been dancing in the atmosphere? How many droplets of water have been flowing freely on the skin of the Earth? How many worlds and stars and galaxies had stood over you all night keeping watch? How many photons live inside the body of the Cosmos? How many shining eyes are there in all the children of Nature? If you listen carefully to the Milky Way, you will hear, my angel, that she is busy loving you too, with all her stars as ONE; she is busy loving you with each spark of life; she is busy loving you and loving me and loving every single being that has ever inhabited this world; she is busy loving us with a unified impermanent breath and with her intoxicating scent of oneness. Then the multiverse of universes counts without counting and resets my soul, because reducing ourselves to Zero is where we all converge to start again. This is how we are still busy finding the infinite ways that we love you, between Zero and ONE.” – Pancho of Oakland

    • Sharif

      says on:
      December 17, 2012 at 12:55 pm

      Very powerful… An invitation to move away from what the Dalai Lama refers to as “our habitual preoccupation with self”, to move to closer to Reality…

      Thanks for sharing.


  • Puanani

    says on:
    December 17, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    I think that it is easier to talk about an individual’s mental health than it is to look at our collective societal health. When we can attribute these kinds of violent actions to individuals, we feel safer. We feel safer because we feel if we can find ways to protect ourselves from “those” sorts of individuals, then we will be safe and those whom we love will be safe. If it is the individual, then we can talk about providing better access to mental health services. If it is the individual, then we can tell our children how to be aware of their surroundings. If it is the individual, then we can run disaster preparedness drills at work and learn what to do when there is a shooter in the building. If it is the individual, then we can talk about the need for greater gun control. If it is the individual, then we are absolved from responsibility. This attitude totally misses the point.
    Individuals do not grow up in a vacuum. We are connected. The Butterfly Effect talks about how a small change in the initial conditions can produce large-scale change sometime in the future. Drop a pebble in the water and witness the Ripple Effect. Those who practice ho’oponopono will ask, “what is it in me that is causing this event to happen, this person to behave this way, this illness to manifest, etc.?” The idea is that in blaming others for the dis-ease, we are guaranteeing that a recurrence of the “problem”. The question is not “what happened to him or why is he this way?”, the question is “what can I do better?”
    We want to think of ourselves as independent, separate beings and yet we cannot escape our interdependence. I think of the way a speck of dust that lands on a spider web sends vibrations throughout the whole web; we are part of the web of life. This is not about finding fault and blaming society. It is about realizing that what I do directly impacts the society in which I live. My swearing, even under my breath or to myself, at the the person who cuts me off on the freeway, averting my eyes to look away from the panhandler on the corner, my participation in gossip, my judgmental evaluation of my neighbors….all of it has a negative impact. My understanding that the person who cut me off on the freeway was not doing so out of personal animosity, my engaging the panhandler as a person who deserves my respect and my acknowledgement, my gently turning gossip into a conversation that increases understanding, my ability to accept that my neighbors are all doing the best they can with the tools that they have available…these sorts of reactions are much more capable of starting a positive ripple.
    There used to be a game called Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. The idea was that, on average, there are merely six acquaintance links separating any two people on earth. I don’t know who the six links are that connect me to any of these shooters, but that doesn’t matter. What I do know is that we are connected. What we do matters. What I do matters.

    • Sharif

      says on:
      December 17, 2012 at 1:26 pm

      You are spot-on… as usual.

      In this society, we have a tendency to reduce problems down to what we can understand… even if that doesn’t solve the problem. One can then say, “Oh well, I tried…”

      Breaker society and culture stresses two things: “freedom” and “individuality”. Both of these noble concepts have been perverted over time. “Freedom” has come to mean “I can do anything I want to do”, while “individuality” has come to mean “there are no consequences to my actions”.

      This perversion has come because we have ignored or belittled other equally noble principles, including “Oneness/inclusivity”, “community”, “compassion” and “responsibility”. “Love of self” must be tempered with “love of others”, including other species and the Earth Herself.

      Both Thich Nhat Hanh and Vaclav Havel talk about showing compassion to both the victims and the villains. As Havel points out, the line between the two runs through each of our hearts.

      Thanks for your thoughts…



  • Kerin

    says on:
    December 17, 2012 at 2:31 pm

    I’ve enjoyed reading all the posts. There is a lot of vibrant, solid energy here. For my part, I feel deep sadness for what has happened to the little ones. To have died with multiple gunshot wounds would have been a terrible way to die. My response to this is for me to continue to be real with people, even when they don’t want it or I feel judged by it. I know that I have reached many souls and other souls have reached me. I would have liked the opportunity to have looked into the eyes of the shooters and victims- to have known them and to have shared and promulgated our joint humanity.

  • ted lumley

    says on:
    December 17, 2012 at 4:11 pm

    To heal this artificial splitting of self and other, it seems that we need to acknowledge that this separation of ourselves from the outrageous behaviours of ourselves is a purificationist habit that is the source of polarization, splitting and alienation in our community. The offensive behaviour does not translate into ‘the offender’. ‘Behaviour’ is purely relational. The notion of an ‘offender’ and the notion of ‘victim’ are a tautology; these two things as ‘things-in-themselves’ are not real, THEY DO NOT EXIST.

    Behaviour seen in the one-sided, subject-authored terms of time-line based historical development is a fraud. When Columbus landed in the Americas and declared; ‘I have discovered a new world’, and ‘the Europeans’ [seeing themselves as separate from those others such as ‘the savages’] saw themselves as notching up another major event on the time-line of their personal history, and were congratulating Columbus for ‘making history’, a million ‘turtle islanders laughed at the audacious egotism of a people that could confuse that passage from their own unawareness to awareness [of something that was always there in the relational space they shared inclusion in] as some sort of ‘physically real achievement’. i.e. in terms of their own historical development as ‘the Western European people’, a view dependent on a notional self-other splitting, a historical development measured by the ‘growing size’ of their empire, a ‘growth’ measured in millions of square miles over night [i.e. a non-physically real growth based on ego-inflation].

    a million turtle islanders were justified in laughing at such ego-driven imagination. The world was still the same size and the European’s so-called ‘discovery’ that enlarged their world, in their heads, did not alter the size or the connected one-ness of the physical world, nor did the notion of an ‘expansion of their empire’ have any physical meaning, apart from the egotistical illusion of ‘ownership/possession’ that resided in their heads and not in the physical land. The physical world was just as it had been prior to their ‘personal discovery’ that inflated their own world view in which they took their private historical development to be ‘real’.

    as schrödinger observes;

    “The world is given to me only once, not one existing and one perceived. Subject and object are only one. The barrier between them cannot be said to have broken down as a result of recent experience in the physical sciences, for this barrier does not exist.”

    in a real, physical sense, there is no ‘Western/European people’ with their own private ‘historical development’ that purports to split the world into ‘themselves’ and ‘others’ and converts the others into stage props or river banks that are adjunct to their own private developmental history. the world is one continually transforming relational space; ‘subject and object are only one’.

    by the same token, there is no such thing as the private ‘historical development’ of a child into an ‘offender’. the developing child is included in the developing community;

    “Many cultures, have a word that represents this notion of the centrality of relationships: for the Maori, it is communicated by whakapapa; for the Nava-jo, hozho; for many Africans, the Bantu word ubuntu. Although the specific meanings of these words vary, they communicate a similar message: all things are connected to each other in a web of relationships.”

    it seems time for us to acknowledge that the notion of the private developmental history of a ‘thing-in-itself’ is ‘illusion’, ‘Maya’, and that our persistence in mistaking it for physical reality is taking us into deepening dysfunction.

  • Ray Jubitz

    says on:
    December 17, 2012 at 5:19 pm

    Sharif – it is heartwarming to see that there are so many wonderful people who are getting (and I mean deeply ‘getting’) your message of inclusivity. While I look forward to the day when all of society can figure out how to nurture each other, I have to ask myself, am I doing all that I can? And the answer in all instances is no. I can do more and it is my intention to do more. While I can influence a few others I also know that there is validity in gun control laws because until we have elevated ourselves to love we need to limit access to weapons. In a world that works for everyone there is no need for controls but we are not there – yet. So if I just work a bit harder, a bit longer, perhaps there will be a paradigm shift in my lifetime. I am hopeful.

    • Sharif

      says on:
      December 18, 2012 at 1:17 pm

      I’m hopeful also… otherwise, I wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning!

      Your self-assessment is deep and authentic. We all can do more – once we free ourselves from the media-supported trance and from our collective Shadow.

      Time for some loving and fierce honesty about who we are and what we are doing.

      Thanks for your wisdom and honesty…


  • Markus Barton Stringer

    says on:
    December 17, 2012 at 6:37 pm

    Sharif … I am among a community of people here in Santa Barbara who would love to invite you to figure-eight a return visit to our “bubble realm” here to co-facilitate an “inservice workshop” devoted to bringing relatively “disparate” groups together to discover and remember the common ground of Being, the perennial philosophy in nitty gritty here and now terms. We are drummers, dancers,artists, writers, healers, educators, public servants, mothers and fathers and children who want to feed each other’s Souls, and who want to establish an ongoing, substantive and direct dialogue not only among ourselves, but also with what we perceive and apprehend as “pyramidic power pinnacles” … the malevolent cyclops all-seeing Eye … this ominous “managerial administrative techno-military class” … whatever indulgent sociological prose I can come up with … “speaking to power” from a solid healthy Soulful community base that wills to communicate clearly it’s intention to rise and overcome “this” … because we are “THAT” … metanoia. (My spell check has NO idea what this is!) We will provide the music, song, dance, poetry, art, healing work, shelter, and great food … and you? The facilitator, mediator … the Pied Piper? We welcome you and invite any and all clear intention to build on the momentum that the likes of the Commonway Institute has created, and IS creating … by way of this we would LOVE to nurture you and honor you with our SOUL. “Come, come, come, come …. though you have broken your vows a thousand times … come … this is no caravan of despair.” (Rumi, me thinks)

  • Tim Rouse

    says on:
    December 18, 2012 at 6:36 pm

    Dear Sharif,

    As usual, your words are wise in every way. It is so good to read someone who is not saying this is a mental health problem of the shooter OR that we need to control guns. Both of these things need attention, but the issue of suicide and a society that is not attending to societal health is so much more appropriate.

    May you have a blessed season and your greatest new year! Love, Tim

  • Anonymous

    says on:
    December 28, 2012 at 12:02 am

    Read your whole article – I am with you 100%. Great article but there is a but …. A vast majority of people in our country and world are too impoverished materially and spiritually to understand your message. They might need a ladder of at least one or two rungs to get up to reach your message.

    I was isolated in 2006 when I got laid off and became severely depressed and wanted to die. That time I was lucky to find someone who told me that being in community is crucial and critical. Someone else told me – you are all right with your reasoning but you seem to be disconnected from the Source. I also met some great souls ant Common Way meetings. I was lucky to receive these simple messages and that I was able to absorb, digest and put it to practice. These community and connections keep me balanced during my times of extreme trial and tribulation. I was lucky to be able to recognize the value of these messages perhaps because I had some previous spiritual nourishment…that had fallen by the wayside.

    In other words how can people who have been raised on a physical/material diet all their life ingest and assimilate a metaphysical/spiritual banquet.

    So the question is what one or two rungs of enlightenment on the physical/material spectrum on the ladder can we provide to the severely starved and impoverished to enable the transcendence to the metaphysical/spiritual.

    May the Force be with you Sharif!!!

    • Sharif

      says on:
      December 29, 2012 at 7:29 pm


      Thanks for your constructive comments! A few of my own:

      You said:

      Great article but there is a but …. A vast majority of people in our country and world are too impoverished materially and spiritually to understand your message.

      On the one hand, I agree… we find ourselves in a country with lots of information, but little knowing, with the possibilities of depth, but a great deal of shallowness. On the other hand: people will take the words to whatever depth they can… and, by doing so, increase the possibilities for depth in themselves. And in others: once a person starts “going deeper”, they encourage that behavior in others. Thinking and feeling is contagious!

      Regarding your story of hitting an emotional bottom, due to external circumstances: how many MILLIONS of times is that being repeated in this country, in the world? And, how few receive the counsel, advice and community you received? How many turn to alcohol, drugs… or a bullet?

      And… how many of us know that the answer lies in community and a deep connection with Source/Divine… yet keep that information to ourselves, as though it were our own personal property?

      Some years ago, I was speaking at a conference on “consciousness”. The participants of that conference shared common areas (hallways, elevators, dining…) with “regular” people. I noticed that the conference-goers largely shunned the “regulars”. When I asked why, the conference-goers said, “We don’t know what to say to them.” Even when the “regulars” asked: “What is your conference about?”

      We have to stop talking to just each other, and we have to stop talking in “code”. The world is literally DYING for what we know… Using your analogy, the world must be INVITED to the banquet — even if they can only absorb a small part of it. They can absorb NONE of it, if they haven’t been invited.

      Thanks again for your comments… And may the Force be with all of us!



  • sharon kelly

    says on:
    December 28, 2012 at 5:58 pm

    What a relief to read something that seems should be obvious. I grew up in very small rural towns on the plains of this country. Nearly everybody was white. That limited us in diversity. But there were people in the community that would be considered “the other” as individuals. There was an acceptance and a protective element at work in kindness and consideration. I, myself, probably received kindness that had to do with my “otherness”. And it does pay off if just one or a few show a little kindness to a child who is in great need of it. For that child will have it to give to someone else.
    I grew up in the 50s when life was much slower and saner. Our speeded up society through technology is helping cause so much unbalance. To find a rock to cling to that gives us something beautiful and meaningful to make it seem worthwhile is necessary.

    Spiritual food for the soul. Love. Real love. Not using love expecting a return. Hard to come by.

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