Where Do We Go From Here?
When tragedy strikes, there is a natural human tendency to feel that Something Must Be Done. In the wake of the shootings in Newtown, CT, suggestions for Things To Be Done are already piling up. Most of these, particularly the two primary suggestions I’ve seen (stricter gun laws and tighter school security) are not only unlikely to have prevented this horrific ordeal had they been enacted prior to it, but they risk creating a new generation of victims.
I am a child of the 80’s, a time when mass hysteria over “stranger danger” led parents to shutter their children indoors. At her website, FreeRangeKids.com, Lenore Skenazy* details the extreme consequences of this shift in mindset, including parents who’ve been prosecuted for actions as terrible as allowing their children to play unsupervised in the yard. The horror.
My fear is that the tragedy in Connecticut will further instill this mindset and that we’ll raise yet another generation of children who are taught that the world is a scary place full of dangerous people who they should not trust. Couple that with a broader societal attitude of Mind Your Own Beeswax and a collective ignorance on mental illnesses and social/emotional/behavioral disorders and you have the perfect recipe for exactly what happened on Friday.
Don’t you think the families of the victims wished someone had minded the shooter’s beeswax? Had said, “Man, there seems something dangerously off with this individual… I should do something”? Had been able to recognize the difference between everyday anger and homicidal rage? Had alerted authorities after his initial run-in at the school instead of seeming to take an out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach when they sent him off?
Something should be done: we should become better, more active, and more connected members of our various communities. We should educate ourselves on what depression is and what the signals of it are. We should create an atmosphere where it is encouraged to discuss the thoughts that might percolate in the brain of a troubled young man. We should be capable of understanding the difference between genuine introverts and socially isolated maladjusts capable of gross acts of violence. We will never do any of these things satisfactorily enough to prevent all instances of violence, but we can certainly do them a hell of a lot better.
Hug your children. But also take the time to shake the hand of your neighbor. And have your child shake his hand. Get to know the people in your community. Use the maelstrom of feelings you are experiencing to motivate you to take meaningful action. Let your children know that the world is by-and-large full of people they can know and trust. And that if they do sense something off within the community and one of its members, they should feel empowered to take supportive action of one kind or another.
We need not cave to fear. We need not further isolate ourselves and our children from each other. If we do, we risk creating more victims. Not only indirect casualties that comes with a generation lacking grounding in their community. But I do believe we might up the likelihood of direct violence, as folks lack the necessary socialization and emotional development to constructively work through their struggles.
Something can be done. Something should be done. Let’s make sure it is the right thing.
* I’ve noted elsewhere that I sometimes think Skenazy takes her agenda a step too far, which is understandable given the size and strength of the cultural pendulum she is attempting to shift. Some of her ideas range from extreme to potentially dangerous. But the vast majority of them and her broader mindset is grounded in a well-intentioned, thoughtful approach to raising well-adjusted children who are not victims of a culture of fear. Should you decide to read her in more detail, do not throw the baby out with the bathwater when she veers out into left field.