"One of the most important things for our society is that kids grow up with positive role models," according to David Cameron, British Conservative Party leader.
Like all major party leaders here in Britain, he has been responding to a recent spate of gun-related killings of teens that have produced heart-tugging headlines for the nation and heart-rending experiences for the families involved.
Positive role models certainly can make a difference. In a neighborhood outside Cape Town, South Africa, I met a man who taught kids musical drama to give them an alternative to street violence – to offer them a practical and spiritual role model, as he put it. He told me, "It's the only way children are going to get there, because they're living on a planet that is so confused that it's unlikely they can find it themselves."
Our "confused planet" includes many poor role models, including some digital ones. The claim that songs, videogames, and movies based on violent posturing have no effect on attitudes and actions doesn't square with my own experience.
When I was listening to paranoid and angry punk music in my late teens, I felt more "streetwise" (which was my goal), but I also felt much more paranoid and angry (which was not my goal). I became hypersensitive to being on the streets, intimidated by fears of violence. Music and movies focusing on the dangers of urban life fed my intense edginess for several years.
Finding a spiritual way of thinking and living eased that. So much so that friends remarked on the sense of peace and security I exuded.
What had happened? My thought had radically changed. You could say that my thoughts had found a new role model, the Science of the Christ – ideas mapped out in Mary Baker Eddy's "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures."
On the basis of these ideas I better understood how I – like everyone – have a direct relationship to an all-good God. I learned to live the book's counsel to "Let neither fear nor doubt overshadow your clear sense and calm trust, that the recognition of life harmonious -- as Life eternally is – can destroy any painful sense of, or belief in, that which Life is not" (p. 495).
This "recognition of life harmonious" gave me a solid conviction of a safety and security available for all, including me. This recognition, which frees us from fear, becomes clearer as we resist the negative, material thinking of what the Bible calls the carnal mind – the thought of a self apart from God which can be violence-conscious, either cherishing or dreading it.
Striving to put off this limited, material mentality did not make me immediately throw out my music collection or change my movie-viewing habits, but I did find myself internalizing their worldview less often. I began to find alternative worldviews in the Bible, from individuals who were not cocooned from aggression – nor frightened by it – but who engaged it to heal it, with spiritual authority and an unshakable peace.
Elisha, for instance, was unfazed when surrounded by an army sent to abruptly end his mission of helping the king of Israel. Elisha prayed, and God delivered him and the city he was in (see II Kings 6:1-23).
In my prayers for young people caught up in the violent imagery of today, I see each having an inherent spiritual individuality prone to bouncing back from mental impressions and actual experiences of violence.
In my own modest way I did this, and the mental "role model" of divine Science, which turned my life around can do the same for any teen, no matter how tough their present walk. The truth is that all are inherently children of God, and no amount of soiling or spoiling of our inner mental landscape can render us incapable of rehabilitation by the Christ, God's message of universal love.