I was thinking today about school shootings and the principles of neuroplasticity. The brain rewires itself to adapt to trauma, tool use, and even our own thoughts. For example, the brains of people who imagine themselves playing piano begin to take on the characteristics of the brains of people who actually play piano. It’s interesting to consider, in light of neuroplasticity, Jesus’s teaching in Matthew 5 about how it’s possible to commit acts of murder and adultery “in one’s heart.” We can trick our own brains into accepting a new normal. The brain adapts and lays down neural grooves (so to speak) that don’t just snap back once the person is done pretending; they linger in place.
The urge to Rambo up after a mass murder is understandable, but I think one reason we are less safe post-Newtown, despite the increase in gun sales and the NRA’s “good guys with guns” school safety campaign, is that we’re essentially visualizing violence. Our brains adapt to the new normal of the culture of fear. We need serious gun control. But we also need to commit to the long term work of compassionately, intelligently, and creatively visualizing and practicing nonviolence–jumping the grooves of the pattern of the world, and being transformed by the renewing of our minds.