Digital Altruism

Cultivating compassion in the 21st century.

May the Force Be With Us

Exploring Star Wars in order to understand the tragedy at Sandy Hook elementary

In one of the most abhorrent scenes in the history of cinema, a young child comes out of hiding, looks up to the adult entering his classroom, and says, “Master Skywalker, there are too many of them, what are we going to do?”

The child is speaking to Anakin Skywalker, who has entered the Jedi Temple determined to slaughter the children and bring an end to the reign of the Jedi. The massacre that ensues is the scene that came to my mind when I first heard about the Sandy Hook tragedy. When watching the movie, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith,  I had the luxury of closing my eyes to a scene that I found too graphic, too disturbing – and ultimately all too possible.  Today, as a mother and psychologist, I must keep my eyes open and help others do the same.  My background in media and spirituality led me to ask how this disturbing scene from Star Wars might help us confront the unimaginable nightmare that unfolded at Sandy Hook elementary. What was George Lucas intending to convey by including this horrendous scene in Star Wars’ narrative? What does it tell us about ourselves? Our society? What does it offer us in the way of condolence? Direction? Hope?  Let’s take these one by one.

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To look for such answers we must begin by recognizing Star Wars as a moral dialogue—an epic conversation about what constitutes the moral high ground and the moral low ground, the so-called “Dark Side of the Force."  The film is worthy of serious consideration because it enables us to set aside religious differences, allowing us to focus more closely on what unites us. In the gruesome scene described above, George Lucas seeks to convey Anakin Skywalker’s complete capitulation to the Dark Side of the Force. To communicate the depth of darkness into which Skywalker has fallen, Lucas shows him taking part in the most abhorrent action imaginable in our world—the merciless slaughter of innocent children. By killing the “younglings” Anakin aims to bring an end to the Jedi Order—with the ultimate goal of destroying Goodness.

Our reaction to this scene tells us something wonderful about our society and ourselves. It tells us that we live in world in which “the child” is treasured as wholly symbolic of goodness.  In archetypal psychology “the child” represents innocence, new beginnings, promise, and trust. In our daily lives, our children renew us with their laugher, their delight in simple things, their questions, the way they love animals and hold the natural world as the finest of playgrounds. Seeing the world through their eyes we see something worth protecting, worth fighting for, worth dying for, but perhaps most importantly, we find in their goodness, something worth living for.

As yet, we do not know why Adam Lanza took up arms against the children at Sandy Hook, yet we are all in agreement—he was terribly disturbed. Through his actions, Adam has wrought indescribable suffering to parents, family, friends—and countless millions around the world who suffer for and with them. In our grief, we may feel anger and confusion, but the Star Wars narrative reminds us not to allow those feelings to give way to hatred and helplessness. The condolence it offers is nothing less than the greatest commandment: It is through loving that we wield the Force to true greatness.

Adam’s actions have put in motion a whole series of consequences that are as yet unknown. Each of us is capable of contributing to that conversation, to shaping the consequences on both a personal and societal level.  We can show our respect for the dead by investigating and sharing our truths. Whether we are for or against gun regulation, for or against increased funding for mental health, for or against violence in media—it is only through looking deeply at these issues from all sides that we can participate in a dialogue capable of fostering change.

Our children are looking to us to engage in these conversations. We must use all the tools at our disposal to answer them. When we read statistics about guns we will not say, “there are too many of them” and simply conclude that there is nothing we can do. We may be a nation divided on gun control issues, but we are not a nation divided on our understanding of what constitutes goodness. If we cannot find a way to agree on gun control then we must come together to support mental health and wellness. Through nurturing a society strong in empathy and compassion, our guns will becomes relics of a by-gone era, an age of warring and tribalism—a Dark Age. Research from the fields of Humanistic and Positive Psychology can lead the way—bringing education in morality, in character strengths and virtues into classrooms, video games, and the Internet at large. If we fail to act upon pleas for help from mothers like Liza Long—if we do not create avenues of support for those in need we run the risk of naming ourselves “Anakin Skywalker."

In the midst of our grief, as the Winter Solstice approaches, we can take comfort in the knowledge that we live in a world in which Adam’s actions are anathema. A world in which the child embodies innocence, hope, promise, all that is good, true, and beautiful. A world in which the ethos embodied by the Jedi Knights reigns victorious. We know this to be true because we are capable of caring not only about the victims of violence, but also about the perpetrator of that violence. We are able to outwit our enemy by drawing a more encompassing circle. On the Solstice, I am going outside to look with wonder into the starry midnight—I am going to hold the memory of the fallen in my heart and mind and renew my commitment to fostering goodness through my words and deeds and through advocating for “training in goodness” in our schools and through promoting positive media. I invite you to do the same. In the words of Robbie Parker, father of Emilie Parker:

"Remember these beautiful children; keep them close to our hearts. Do not let their bright shining faces become extinguished. Let us do everything in our power to ensure their light will continue to shine brighter and brighter in all we do to remember them."

We can ensure that their light will continually shine brighter and brighter by honoring their memory through promoting that which illumined them from within: their goodness. We can do this in the following ways at the National level:

1) Call upon the US Department of Education to mandate education in Ethics for grades K-12

2) Call upon the US Department of Education to mandate education in Media Literacy for grades K-12 

Dana Klisanin, Ph.D., a visiting scholar at Saybrook University, is an integral psychologist specializing in the use of arts and media to promote altruism and compassion.

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