Everytime a shooting happens at a school, I go through what I think everyone does. First I am so saddened and shocked. Silent. Imagining what is happening inside another parent and child's worst nightmare. I start thinking about children hiding in closets and parents driving dangerously fast in the direction of their children, praying, begging God that they are ok. Then I begin to drift from that and place myself in those shoes. What if that was my reality? What if I didn't know if my child was ok or what if I was afraid that the child with a gun was MY child? I often decide at this point that I will never send my children to school. That I will homeschool them. After this, I begin an attempt to make sense of what has happened by finding causes. Was the shooter mentally unstable? Bullied? Abused at home? Who missed the signs that he was dangerous or screaming out for help that never came? What kinds of things lead a child to decide that murder is the only way to solve a problem?
At the end of all of this, I always come to the personal realization that we have failed our kids on a level that is unforgivable. Not just the parents of the kids who shoot, but our society in it's entirety. All of us, a part of this country that tells children that they can be whatever it is that they desire in their life. We tell them that they are this nation's most valuable resource but we don't walk this talk. Do we do all that we can to ensure that every child is safe, not just physically but emotionally, when they go to school? What it looks like to me, is that we don't. Because we fail to to take seriously the things that keep children out of trouble. Connection. Purpose. Outlets. People who give a shit.
When crisis strikes, our instinct as parents is to grab our kids up and hug them. Hold them tighter. Keep them closer. But what about our responsability to also hug up and connect with other people's kids? What about the kid that we forbid our kids to play with. The bad influence. Why are we not hugging that kid? Instead of banishing them from connection with our kids, why not invite them to dinner? Why not extend to them the one thing that we know can change the coarse of a child's life? Knowing that they are worth something. Knowing that someone cares about how you turn out? An anchor. By modeling this through action, we are also teaching our own kids to practice it. I know that I am not answering all questions or coming up with a solution that is obvious or complete with a post on my blog. I'm also not saying that a family dinner invitation will solve the problem of school shootings. These are just the questions that I am trying to answer for myself. You may not agree with me. But I believe that if we could all step outside of our comfort zone (our own families) and extend ourselves to giving a shit about other people's kids, we then have the power to turn this around. One kid at a time. But we don't. We have become so focused on our own that we close ourselves off and watch as things happen to others. All the while thinking, "Not my child. Not my child". We have turned inward. Our sense of community, all but gone.
When I worked with the children at the domestic violence shelter, I was often asked how I could do it. How in the world I went to work everyday knowing that kids who grow up in violent homes often become violent or victims of violence. To that I always said, because it takes one person to change the course of a child's life. One person. One activity. One anchor. But that person has to believe. Because these kids can smell a rat. These kids know if you think they are full of shit or that they are hopeless. So you better not think it, even for a second. How do we believe it? By looking at the reality that SIXTY SIX percent of kids who grow up in violent homes go on to change their lives (this is true for children of addicts and children of smokers too). We just don't hear about them because they aren't commiting crimes. So what's the big difference between the 66% that turn out ok and the 33% that don't? The 66% had something that the others did not. An outlet. A person. A connection that was someone or something other than their own parents. Another adult that took an interest in them. A sport that made them feel talented. A hobby that they shared with a good friend. A reason for feeling good about themselves. A root to plant them here and believe that they had purpose. It's not rocket science. People who believe in themselves and have the tools to express their anger and despair, do not kill people. We know the risk behaviors and precursers for violence. We know them. So why in the hell aren't we focusing on these kids?
Because we are ass backwards in this country. We fix things later. We wait for a problem. We build more jails and we find more things to outlaw. And maybe I'm talking like a crazy person here, but I just don't understand why we still are not stopping the problem when we actually can (with a young child) and instead finding new ways to contain the problem once they are too far gone as adults. It's mind blowing really.
So I guess my point is this, have you hugged someone else's kid today? Because my understanding is that the vast majority of us are good people with good intentions. We get a bad rap from the ones that are not. We have become afraid to reach out. Afraid that others will question our reasons. Or reject our offers of kindness. Or think we are weird. And to that I say, get over it. Do it anyway. Because we live in a violent world and no amount of closing our doors and shutting our blinds has changed that. When we turn away from others in pain, we leave it fester. We become a part of it's growth. We don't have to do that. We can be stronger than that. Martin Luther King Jr. said (and I paraphrase), the only thing that has ever conquered hatred, is love. It sounds like hippie dippy liberal peace and flower talk, I know. But you know what? It's the truth. And loving and connecting with your neighbor's kid may not prevent a school shooting. But it just might change that one child. It may show her that she doesn't need to have a baby at sixteen to feel loved. It may help that boy know that he is smart enough and brave enough to go away to college. By standing up for a child you are teaching them that they desreve fairness and kindness and they will learn to stand up for someone else. And on and on and on. You can be a part of that. And by doing that you are changing the world. You really are.