Neuroscience – Gun Control – Forgiveness


While doing research on neuroscience and forgiveness I came across a very interesting article written by Tim Philips, executive director of Beyond Conflict, on neuroscience and the gun control debate. As we go into this election year gun control is a very hot topic. What struck me about the article was a recognition of the role of sacred values. Sacred values are a set of values that individuals and groups hold dear to their sense of right and wrong. In a sense they become our North star. In many intractable conflicts around the world, groups fighting one another often are not recognizing or respecting the sacred values held by the “other” group and the fighting goes on.

So what does this have to do with gun control. It is called the 2nd Amendment right, a sacred value held by many Americans. We all have feelings around the right to bear arms. This is a value our country was founded on. We will fight for our sacred values and therefore fight for the right to bear arms. Interestingly research shows that sacred values actually have a biological basis in the brain. Gregory Berns, a neuroscientist at Emory University has used neuroimagery technology to identify brain regions associated with sacred values and has found that sacred values are processed in a part of our brain which may cause us to react physically when a challenge is made to our sacred belief.

In walks the issue of gun control. The debate clearly gets juices flowing and according to research done by neuroscientists emotions and narratives must be part of the equation if we want the debate to move forward. So how can we address gun violence through the lens of sacred values? The dialogue needs to open up in a way where people feel safe and feel heard in talking about what is sacred to them. Everyone needs to truly listen to what is being said and to not feel that their identities are being threatened. Only when this happens can we bring the debate back to facts and figures. If we can recognize the powerful hold sacred values have on us and how this gets played out in the gun debate perhaps we can find a new approach to these polarizing conversations. Perhaps we can find a sacred value that supersedes our right to bear arms that we can all get around. If we can do this perhaps we have come a little closer to resolving our differences and in the process forgive ourselves for how hard we have been with one another and how difficult this journey has been.

Dr. Eileen Borris is a licensed psychologist and has conducted conflict resolution in nine (9) foreign countries.  She has addressed the United Nations General Assembly, appeared in numerous media interviews and is the author of the bestseller Finding Forgiveness (McGraw Hill). 

Contact Dr. Borris at  Twitter @ERBorris