|Shrine of the Bab, Bahai World Centre, Tel Aviv, Israel.|
Stepping into the emotional fallout of December’s mass shooting is Dr. John Woodall. The former Harvard psychiatrist was almost immediately making the rounds in Newtown, consoling the grief stricken and advocating a seemingly unique communitarian creed. Woodall’s presence was unsurprising for locals since he resides in Sandy Hook, where his “Unity Project” non-profit is also based. What is more, the event was eerily appropriate for the “teaching children resilience” mission Woodall’s organization was already undertaking in Newtown area schools. Unity Project had already contributed to such exercises following major crises including 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.
At first glance the Unity Project appears to be yet another new agey, “let go of the hate” platform for Woodall’s pop-humanist psychology. We must learn to overcome our ordeals and look beyond our differences on the way to one big group hug. The organization has created such a program for the youth of Newtown’s high school where students have been encouraged to fill out a psychological survey and negotiate with administrators and teachers to lessen the homework load.
On its face the prospect of developing well-rounded and engaged citizens sounds desirable. Who wants to be considered a holdout against local cooperation, peaceful coexistence, even global trade harmonization? The consequence these days includes running the risk of being deemed a grouchy extremist. Perhaps this is why groups are actively espousing and disseminating Unity Project precepts in schools and communities throughout the world.
“As we move more deeply into a national and global climate fraught with complex and nuanced problems,” Woodall explains,
young people need to become masters of working with this complexity and diversity in cooperative and constructive ways. Our democracy and the happiness of our lives depend upon it. Young people need to know how to recognize bias, see the big picture and resist and problem solve cooperatively and to resist the human tendency to allow fear and anger to pull us to simplistic and extremist solutions that only create division and conflict and end up worsening the problems we face.This exact doctrine was articulated in Woodall’s December 14 remarks to the Associated Press.
I do this for a living—I do trauma work for a living. I ran programs overseas for the State Department. I’ve worked in school shootings before. But all that—none of that counts. All that counts at that moment is that another human being is there for you … It’s a strong community. It’s a resilient community. The task now is for the community to give this a meaning. It’s like in New York City after 9/11. The lesson of 9/11 wasn’t that we should be afraid or angry, or bitter or blame or point fingers. The lesson of 9/11 is that we’re all in this together and we need to show compassion for each other to give meaning to the loss.In Woodall’s evaluation the death and horror from such events constitute a sort of nightmarish martyrdom from which a greater good will arise. Indeed, many of the Sandy Hook victims’ families publicly exhibit this very ability to unemotionally cope with profound loss, an ostensible response and mindset that does not go unnoticed by the broader public. The wide exposure of this apparent struggle suggests a mass conditioning toward the community resilience that is a foremost element of what contemporary social engineers have termed the “Newtown transition.”
Along these lines and throughout the bulk of Woodall’s writings and pronouncements there is a clear resemblance to the precepts of the Bahá’í faith, to which Woodall is a devotee. Even though his professional training and pedigree suggest a “scientific” (qua psychiatry) approach to personal and community problems, Woodall’s writings are essentially those espoused by the Bahá’ís. He just seldom declares such affiliations or beliefs publicly. An exception was when Woodall and his spouse Margo Woodall recited Bahá’í passages at the December 16, 2012 interfaith gathering for Sandy Hook victims attended by President Obama.