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To truly change our culture we need to take a big step - and it doesn't involve guns

Updated on December 17, 2012

This hub is a departure from my normal topic of baseball, but is an issue that I'm sure is at the forefront of most of our thoughts the past few days.

The past several days, in the wake of the tragedy in Connecticut, we’ve all been reading and hearing a lot of words about the need to change our culture. By this, many are referring to guns.

In Washington, the discussion will surely revolve around guns because it is the most political of the issues and the one that best can vilify the opposing party, one way or the other.

But will adding more gun control laws – or taking more away, depending on the political slant – really change the culture? What would it mean to truly change our culture?

Looking at culture that is truly different - the Amish

Let’s look at a culture here within the United States that is different – the Amish. My parents come from an Amish background, I have many Amish relatives and I have many Amish businessmen as clients. It’s a culture I know well. I have been asked to speak to various civic and government groups as an “expert” on Amish culture.

One thing I can say is that a headline you’ll probably never see is “Amish gunman involved in mass shooting.” (I won’t say never because you can never be 100 percent sure of anything, but I am 99.9999 percent sure of this.)

Why do I feel this way? Is it because the Amish abhor guns?

Quite the opposite. The Amish enjoy shooting sports, from hunting to target shooting. Most Amish have at least one gun, some are quite avid collectors. While many are hunters (including some of the women), many also enjoy target shooting, from plinking cans to shooting clay pigeons.

Limited exposure to violent images

So if it isn’t an absence of guns, what makes the Amish culture different? There are a number of reasons.

One is the limited exposure to violent images. Because they don’t use electricity in their homes, they don’t have television. They don’t see pictures of war on the news and they don’t see the barrage of television shows involving murder and mayhem. They aren’t allowed to go to movies, so they don’t see the gruesome blood-and-gore images Hollywood pumps out in a never-ending stream.

Obviously, without electricity or TV they also don’t have Xbox or PlayStation, so their youth aren’t playing games where the objective is to shoot down as many enemies as possible, complete with graphic blood and gore.

Spiritual outlook provides a different view of life

But, as important as I think that lack of exposure to violent images is, it’s not the biggest difference between the Amish culture and the rest of the nation. I think the biggest difference is a belief in a world bigger than the individual and the individual’s needs.

It starts with their religion, of worshipping a higher power with the infinite wisdom to see not only the whole world, but all of time past and time future. This higher power also promises an eternal life for the soul after this earthly life is over, a life filled with joys untold without any crying or suffering.

This view of the spiritual realm enables them to endure pain and sorrow without the need to understand it all. It allows them to forgive. It helps them to see themselves not as victims but merely as pilgrims on the road to something far better than they can ever experience on earth.

It also gives the Amish a sense of community. Because they use horse and buggy rather than automobiles, and because they have no church houses, instead taking turns worshipping in each other’s homes, they by necessity live close together.

This creates an almost extended family. Weddings and funerals alike become community events, attended by most or all of the families in the church district. Problems – everything from loss of a job to a broken leg to a death – are handled as community events, with everyone pitching in as much as they are able.

Respect for others leads to a spirit of giving

Amish children are raised to respect and obey their parents. While parents don’t hesitate to dish out spankings when necessary, the respect and obedience is not gained by force. In many cases, it is something learned by the respect the parents show for their parents, which has the added benefit that children see the elderly as people who deserve respect as well.

The elderly among the Amish are treated with dignity and respect, and the wisdom they gained over the years is considered valuable in dealing with life’s problems.

Amish society is patriarchal, and there is usually a stricter division of labor between men and women than in the rest of society, but women are treated with respect – in some cases, more respectfully than among the more liberal equal rights contingent. In Amish businesses, women often play vital roles and sometimes even run a business of their own.

The respect for others developed within the nuclear family radiates outward. That includes respect for others within their Amish community, of course, but extends even further.

Many Amish are involved in communitywide projects, such as Habitat for Humanity or as volunteer firemen, as well as international financial aid projects. Many travel great distances to help with cleanup and rebuilding after disasters like tornados and hurricanes.

Ideals of respect, giving are sliding away

This sense of community, of respect for others, a desire to give to others and help them, to not see yourself as a victim, to believe that there is an eternity that stretches on beyond life on earth, in my opinion, makes it awfully hard to think about killing anyone, especially a classroom full of innocents, no matter how much access you have to guns.

I don’t mean to paint Amish society as some utopia. They deal with problems, too. I also don’t intend to come across that the rest of society doesn’t hold these same ideals. I think most of us do, although we probably don’t take advantage of the opportunities to put those ideals into action as often as the Amish do.

But it does seem to me that these ideals are what our young people – especially young men – are starting to lose. I see more of a sense of entitlement, of thinking the world owes them something, that they are victims of society and community and parents, that their needs come first. There is a loss of respect for anyone who hasn’t “earned” it, usually by being able to beat them in a video game.

This narrow me-first, my-needs-are-most-important, I’m-a-victim view of the world leads to rage. Unfortunately, our TV shows and movies increasingly suggest we should vent our rage in revenge. Video games teach that going out in a blaze of glory, taking as many of the “enemy” with them as possible, is a cool way to go. And when you see yourself as being victimized by society, anyone can become the enemy, even school children.

Change can start in Hollywood

Changing gun laws won’t change our culture. I’m not convinced that guns are even part of the equation of changing our culture. Instead, we have to change how we view ourselves and others.

One active change we can make is to pressure Hollywood to reduce the amount of violence, and the glorification of it, in TV shows and movies. We can limit video game makers to the amount of violence they can put into a game. Yes, we can choose to turn off the TV or not attend those movies, or not buy those games, but many impressionable young people won’t make that choice.

(Even when you think you’re not allowing those shows in your home, take a look at the commercials during other events. On Sunday, while watching football, I saw commercials for the movies Django Unchained, Gangster Squad and Jack Reacher, all of which showed glorification of violence, especially gun violence, and a new TV series called Revenge, which is about a wronged woman seeking vengeance on those who wronged her.

In fact, the movies I mentioned all seemed to have the theme of taking violent revenge on people. How often do impressionable young kids have to see just the commercials before they think that vengeance is a proper response to being wronged?)

Biggest change needs to start within ourselves

Most of all, though, we need to start changing ourselves. We need to develop that view of the world beyond our individual selves, of something bigger than ourselves, whether you believe in God or Allah or even if you’re an atheist.

We need to quit seeing ourselves as victims. We need to respect others – our families, our extended families, our neighbors, our nation – and reach out to help when we can rather than sitting back to see what they will do for us. We need to teach our children and grandchildren that the world doesn’t revolve around them and their needs, teach them to respect others and instill a spirit of giving rather than taking.

Will it be easy? Not in the least. Our culture as a whole has been sliding away from this for the past 50 years. But if we want to change our culture – truly make a big change – this is where we start. Not by changing gun laws. Not by locking up the mentally ill. But within our own hearts. It’s the only place that we can create lasting change.

I am now on Twitter, although whether I'll figure out how to use it or have anything worthwhile to say remains to be seen. You can follow me @GaryKauffman77.

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