Mass Shooters and The Missing
Via Positiva called Play

Synchronicity happens. 

Yesterday, while driving down the highway meditating on Julian of Norwich and her teachings on goodness along with Kristal Parks’ teachings on Joy and Justice for our Via Positiva meditations, I heard a man on NPR talking about the recent horrible mass killings in Dayton and El Paso. 

He had an important story to tell since as a young psychiatrist he created a team to investigate what has been called the first mass killing in the US.  In Austin on August 1, 1966, twenty-five year old Charles Whitman climbed to the top of a tower at the University of Texas campus and shot 18 people to death, injuring 31 others.

“Boy Crying” Photo by Kat J on Unsplash

Psychiatrist Stuart Brown, now in his eighties, found that the killer utterly lacked any play in his childhood.  His father beat his mother and Charles regularly and forbade him to play (Hitler’s father also beat him daily according to German psychiatrist Alice Miller).  An ex-Marine and a good marksman, he also taught his son how to shoot accurately.  Over many years Brown interviewed twenty-one killers in prison and 100% of them told of  parallel experiences—little or no play as a child.

If this does not shed light on the power and importance of the Via Positiva, I do not know what does.  This is not to say that lack of play is the only cause of the aggression and reptilian brain excess that is behind mass killings, but it surely indicates one important cause:

Does the murder of the Via Positiva precede other murders?

“Martial Artist” Photo by Sam Moqadam on Unsplash

I am reminded of a faculty member, Kaleo Ching, who taught a course called “Tai Chi and Mask making” at our University of Creation Spirituality as art as meditation and who took the class to prisons.  He told me that when he led his Tai Chi workshop for murderers on Death Row they would always say to him: “This is the first time in my life that I have experienced stillness.”

Thus would-be murderers are missing both the Via Positiva (play) and the Via Negativa (stillness or contemplative listening)–common denominators in a society that is birthing far too many men who take other peoples’ lives.  And very often want to take their own also.  For there are indications also that suicide too is often a part of a mass-murderer’s agenda—to go “out with a bang” and lots of notoriety and publicity.

A society lacking the Via Positiva and the Via Negativa is a society without mysticism. 

Today Dr. Stuart Brown heads the National Institute for Play. 

Website of the National Institute for Play

See Matthew Fox, Original Blessing, pp. 277-292.
Banner image: “Puddle Jumping” Photo by Xavi Cabrera on Unsplash

Queries for Contemplation

How does the Via Positiva awaken you to play? 

How do you see play in the lives of others—children?  Adults?  But also other beings, other creatures? 

Does seeing this move you to gratitude and even reverence and lead you to play more yourself? 

Recommended Reading

Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality

In this book Matthew Fox lays out a whole new direction for Christianity—a direction that is in fact very ancient and very grounded in Jewish thinking (the fact that Jesus was a Jew is often neglected by Christian theology). Here Fox lays out the Four Paths of Creation Spirituality, the Vias Positiva, Negativa, Creativa and Transformativa in an extended and deeply developed way.

Matthew Fox calls on all the world traditions for their wisdom and their inspiration in a work that is far more than a list of theological position papers but a new way to pray—to meditate in a global spiritual context on the wisdom all our traditions share. Fox chooses 18 themes that are foundational to any spirituality and demonstrates how all the world spiritual traditions offer wisdom about each.

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4 thoughts on “Mass Shooters and The Missing <br>Via Positiva called Play”

  1. Avatar

    exciting to see how your philosophy & reach has matured & expanded since Barat College…When you acted as adviser for a musical I wrote & presented at the Union Church of Lake Bluff….if that priest were truly you?? Came upon you cited in RADICAL AMAZEMENT

    1. Gail Ransom

      Dear Susan,
      Welcome back to the mind and messages of Matthew Fox!! Much has happened in the world and in Matthew’s teaching since writing your musical at Union Church of Lake Bluff. Please stay take a tour of these Daily Meditations and see what else is news!
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditations Team

  2. Avatar

    The commentator on NPR was quoted as saying that the shooting at the University of Texas that killed 18 people in 1966 was perhaps the first mass shooting in America. This ignores the violence that characterized British North America and the part of that that became the U.S. since the beginning. There is greater awareness now (not nearly enough) of the violence inherent in slavery and the genocide of Native Peoples. In order to sustain these systems mass shootings and other forms of mass killing were regularly used. I will spare the reader examples, but a vast and growing literature documents this unsparingly. Other forms of mass violence (anti-labor, anti-catholic, anti-Hispanic etc. ) were there as well. Perhaps the well-meaning NPR commentator was thinking of white-on-white violence. By now (s)he should know better. It’s not something shockingly recent. It’s something rooted in our very essence as a nation. And the lack of play among youth doesn’t have much of a roll in the overall picture of violence, which is much more fundamentally a social rather than a psychological issue.

  3. Avatar

    I understand what you are saying Thomas. I had been thinking the same thing with regard to Native Americans. There certainly were mass shootings and mass killings of the native people too in other ways. So it is way too ingrained in white culture (as if there were such a thing) to discount mass killings if it doesn’t affect “us,” and it is good of you to point that out. Thanks for helping us think deeper about this. We, as whites, are way too often parochial in our thinking and references; as if it isn’t real if its main effect isn’t on European Americans. That being said, the phenomenon of white-on-white mass shootings does appear to be new. I haven’t studied the phenomenon enough to know if that’s true. And it’s interesting that NPR, which we generally consider to give intelligent analyses, failed to put their analysis within a historical context. Even so, I think the study Matthew mentions is important. I wonder how much the European Americans who came here and massacred the native people—I wonder how much those people played and let their children play.

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