Changing the Question

Member Group : From the Kitchen Table

There is a classroom exercise called the "Lifeboat". In it, there is a lifeboat with ten people in it. The students are given a bio of each of the people, and then told that only nine will fit in the boat. They must decide who must be tossed out of the boat so the remaining nine people will survive.

Over the years, students have struggled with the task of deciding who should live and who should die. In the exercise, the class discusses the decision of each student. No student is comfortable with the task, but do not know how to escape its horrible decision-making process.

But one student came into class and offered the possibility of using clothing to make a rope, and then letting each passenger swim behind the boat for one hour. There were never more than nine people in the boat, and no one had to die.

The class listened to this new solution, and suddenly they had a variety of options that would save all ten passengers. The professor asked why the new options had not been offered first, and the students replied that no one had asked them to save every life. They had been asked to choose a life to end, and they had focused on answering the question that had been asked.

The student with the new approach had changed the question. Instead of asking which life to end, that student had asked himself how to save every life. When the question changed, the answer did as well.

In the weeks since the tragedy in Connecticut, the questions asked by the media and the political establishment have all focused on HOW the killings were done, instead of WHY they happened.


Because the Connecticut incident is not the only mass murder to occur in the past twelve months – it is just the latest.

If we actually want to make the violence stop, we need to focus our attention on its cause. It won’t be an easy task. It will require us to honestly examine all the factors in the lives of the killers. It will mean that we might have to re-evaluate our own beliefs and behaviors.

There is evidence that all of the killers came from homes that had been broken by divorce. So could divorce be more harmful to children than we as a society believed? And if so, do we need to re-examine our policies in that area?

There is evidence that a majority of the killers had a history of mental instability. Do we need to look at the changes made in the way that we deal with mental illness in our society and make some adaptations?

There is evidence that the killers showed no remorse over the deaths of their victims or the suffering of the victims’ families. Do we need to explore the effects of the loss of respect for life and for morality in our society?
These questions don’t have immediate answers. But they are real.

That makes them infinitely better than the pretend debate that is currently raging across America. The reality is that not all mass murders are committed with guns. Killers use whatever tools they deem most effective to achieve their grisly results.

Does anyone really believe that the families who had empty spaces around their Christmas trees this year would have felt better if the emptiness had been caused by a bomb instead of a rifle?

Of course not.

The pain of the families who lost loved ones to violence this year is real. They need, and deserve, a real examination into the sources of that violence.
It’s time that we changed the question, and began that examination.

Peg Luksik is Chairman of Founded on Truth. Her blog, Battlelines, can be found at her web site The blog is copyrighted. It may be shared in both print and electronic format provided that it is not edited and all copies include author and web site.