Susan Walsh, AP
Lawmakers should focus on prevention and suppression of violence in our society. Maybe if they did that, there would be fewer mothers and others killed by mentally ill children.

Violence in our society is not simply due to guns, games, movies or mental illness; it is the result of our losing the values vital to our free society. It's about us.

We have those who contribute to our growing atmosphere of violence today, be it politicians or special-interest groups that thrive on anger that inflicts lasting damage to our society. They create fear, hatred, mistrust and conflict among us. We seem to resign ourselves to the growing violence as the "new normal." While we show initial outrage at the senseless mass killings that are more frequent, we quickly move on and do nothing. As Americans, we are losing our moral compass, and that may be the greatest danger our nation faces.

Like it or not, national leaders have created a culture of anger, mistrust and confrontation that permeates and is replicated throughout our society — "If our leaders do it, it's OK." They foment and exploit the fear and hostility among people for their own benefit. They lack the courage to act and use the excuse cowardly leaders do — call for more study and wait for the "ultimate" solution that allows fear and division among citizens to escalate. In the meantime, violence continues to rise, people die, special interests can claim victory and politicians keep their seats.

The most corrosive result of weak-kneed leaders is the loss of confidence they create among the public in accepting violence as a way of life. To cope, people begin to rationalize about how things are. We do nothing while hiding under the banner of individual freedom. "Do your own thing," we have been told. We now see more violence in our movies, games, on our streets — and do nothing. With our wired and interconnected world, our children are exposed to a multitude of different values. Is it any wonder our children have a tough time figuring out fantasy from reality — what is right and what is wrong?

History has taught us that societies do perish because they failed to cling to a set of common values, care for each other and maintain a deep sense of community. We seem to be well along that road. Our system of government requires alert citizens to make sure it responds to the changing needs and to throw out the politicians that don't. Politicians should stop looking for blame and pitting groups against each other, and call upon the best in us to restore the values needed to have a free society that could return confidence in ourselves.

If politicians could only listen to a mother's anguish over living with her mentally ill child prone to violence and having to hide knives from him, they might understand what parents live with on a daily basis and enact policies that might help them. Lawmakers should focus on prevention and suppression of violence in our society. Maybe if they did that, there would be fewer mothers and others killed by mentally ill children.

We must realize that we did not become a violent society overnight; rather, we have become complacent and resigned ourselves to accepting, "that's the way it is." Now, we seem to have lost our moral compass and confidence in ourselves. We used to be people that pulled together and created the civil society we once enjoyed. But if we created it once, we can do it again.

As John W. Gardner said, "A society begins with us, it must not end with us."

A Utah native, John Florez has been on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch, served as former Utah Industrial Commissioner and filled White House appointments, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor and Commission on Hispanic Education. Email him at [email protected]