Angels from Newtown: Are We Listening?

200321147-001It’s been over a month since the Newtown massacre. It’s a story that no longer is constantly splashed in the media. But even though it’s old news, I believe the story needs to stay alive within each of us. There have been 31 school shootings in the United States since Columbine. The death of 20 young children has to be the final straw, the impetus to motivate us to change. The only sense I can make of the otherwise senseless deaths of children is to be an advocate for change. Violence in our country is a complicated problem that requires a multidimensional solution. I am not a legislator, although I believe laws need to change. I am not a security professional, although I believe new security efforts are necessary. I don’t sell or purchase guns, but there needs to be changes in that arena. I am not a spiritual leader, but I believe spiritual lessons can be learned in the face of these tragedies.

What I am is an expert in human behavior. I believe people can change one person at a time, one family at a time, one community at a time. As a professional who has studied human behavior for nearly 30 years, I want to share some of my ideas that might help the effort to reduce violence.

A well-respected psychiatrist, Alfred Adler, believed no human behavior is haphazard; all behavior has some purpose. He also thought people are social creatures who have a universal goal of wanting to belong. Furthermore, he said people who display interest in others’ welfare are the most emotionally healthy. We know the profile of a school shooter is someone who is socially disenfranchised, bullied, or awkward. Adler would say an individual who lacks belonging becomes discouraged and shows little interest in others. This level of discouragement leads to inferiority feelings. No one likes feeling like they don’t belong or they’re inferior to others. They find ways to compensate for the pain of rejection. They behave in ways that help them feel superior, sometimes with disregard for the welfare of others. So a discouraged, disenfranchised young person who feels rejected and unimportant mistakenly believes he or she can become “important” by being a mass shooter.

  • Recommendation No. 1: Stop making the shooter a celebrity! I will not glamorize the Newtown shooter by mentioning his name.
  • Recommendation No. 2: Model acceptance and inclusion. Show kindness rather than disdain for others who look different or act different than yourself. I grew up with a friend who was popular in school. She regularly included kids who looked different and acted different than we did. She showed us it was “cool” to include those kids. My friend continued to show respect and concern for others unconditionally throughout her life. She didn’t judge anyone; she saw the good in people. When she unfortunately lost her battle with cancer, there were at least 1,100 people at her funeral. She was a kind, loving soul, and I want to honor her name in print—Bonnie Saltzman Dayan. We need more Bonnies in this world!

Loving kindness isn’t sensational or dramatic. It doesn’t sell movies or video games. Kids now watch massacres on their Xboxes, phones, iPads, and huge television screens. They do it multiple times a day. This technology has helped reinforce violence as acceptable. It also has desensitized the reality of pain and the devastating consequences of violence.

It used to be that cartoon and movie heroes dressed up in silly costumes got bad guys with punches and captions like “POW!” or “BAM!” Now video “heroes” can blow up a fictitious universe using weapons of mass destruction.

  • Recommendation No. 3: Parents, make your home a violence-free zone. Limit, or dare I say eliminate, video games and violent movies in your home. Kids can view violence almost anywhere, but be an example for peace; value it and model mutual respect—respect for both physical and emotional safety.
  • Recommendation No. 4: Make your home free of verbal, emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. Included in this is excessive criticism. A great resource to help parents improve the atmosphere in their homes is Active Parenting Now by Michael Popkin. If abuse is a regular part of your family’s experience, get help from a mental health professional.
  • Recommendation No. 5: “Weapons of mass destruction” are being sold in our own backyards! These are not the kind of weapons one uses to shoot deer. They are designed to massacre. Perhaps it’s unrealistic to ban guns in our culture. But can’t we reserve production of assault weapons for the military? Why not limit the production of ammunition? Shouldn’t we have a better system for background checks that could make it as difficult as possible for known criminals or people with mental illness to purchase weaponry?

These are just a few thoughts from the perspective of someone who works with people’s emotions and behavior.

I believe in angels. I believe those 20 children and six educators are now angels trying to lead us to do good deeds. If we pay attention to the angels, we can learn to value peace and interest in others. So my final recommendation is to take time to assess if you and your family value and model nonviolent behavior. Are you paying attention to the messages of the angels from Newtown?

© Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Felice Block, MA, LCPC, Relational Recovery Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Sara

    January 25th, 2013 at 10:27 AM

    I am so upset and angry at this kind of senseless violence, but now apparently those in the know and who have the power at my child’s school think that they way to end the violence is to have armed security guards and police officers at the school all the time. What good does it do to have even more guns in school when I thought that was precisely the thing that none of us wanted to see? And yet there they are now patrolling the hallways, as if this is going to stop someone who is hell bent on inflicting harm on others who are not defended. I think that this is the wrong answer, it makes those who are crazy enough to want to do this think that they do now have to go into battle against others and they will try even harder to accomplish their senseless goals of harm. I do not even know what to say anymore when my children ask about it, because there is no easy answer anymore.

  • Sami

    January 25th, 2013 at 11:14 AM

    I am the mother of two girls, 10 and 14. They don’t really watch violent things on television or play violent video games because, quite frankly, they just don’t appeal to them. I wish I could take some credit for that, but it’s just who they are. However, what is just as insipid to me, is the shows they love on Disney Channel and Nikelodian geared towards their age levels. I swear, those are the snarkiest girls out there. The behavior those girls model that can be passed off as humorous has a dark side to it. I really don’t let my kids watch those shows anymore. They can look so harmless just passing by, but if you really sit down and look at them, they are filled with messages you probably don’t want your children to receive.

  • Tabby

    January 25th, 2013 at 11:18 AM

    I know #5 if a huge sticking point in our country right now and I don’t want to “start something.” But, it is something I really think about a lot. It is true you can’t use what you don’t have. So, if you don’t have weapons of mass destruction, you can’t use them. If you do have something such as a rifle used to hunt deer, can’t the end result be just the same as the one you’d get when you used the weapon of mass destruction? Dead is dead, right? So, while we don’t need weapons of mass destruction, it would be a mistake to think that getting rid of them would stop children from killing each other. Even if we burned all the guns in one giant pile, a child could still kill another child with a household object. So, taking away the guns isn’t going to solve this problem. I really feel like this problem has to be solved “on the inside.” We can’t expect kids not to kill or hurt other kids anymore just cause they don’t have access to guns.

  • U Randolf

    January 25th, 2013 at 11:19 AM

    All are great recommendations. Let’s do this, America!

  • V Rose

    January 25th, 2013 at 11:23 AM

    Is it really any better to see super heroes punching each other than it is to see someone blow up the universe? Isn’t that sort of violence what you are advocating getting rid of in homes? Isn’t this how we got into this whole mess in the first place? Just because it happened when we were kids doesn’t mean we can romanticize it and make it seem better than what kids are exposed to today. You can trace what is going on in TV world today right back to what we watched when we were kids.

  • Felice Block

    January 25th, 2013 at 12:44 PM

    I agree with you that what baby boomers watched when they were children was just as violent. The degree and intensity were not the same as the current violence in video games. Personally, I don’t condone violence. Technology beings grossly violent images up so much quicker. No matter how much “Batman” I watched on TV, the quantity of gruesome images is exponentially so much more! To me, the difference is in degree and intensity.

  • taylor

    January 26th, 2013 at 1:39 PM

    I agree with all recommendations except number five.Taking away arms from the public is not going to make us safe.It is going to make us unsafe.At a time when even security personnel within the country are acquiring battlefield grade arms and when drones are soon going to be used to spy on civilians,we cannot give up our arms.We are moving towards becoming a police state and bearing arms should be something that should in fact be encouraged.

    A kitchen knife can kill too.Does that mean we ban them?Its not about the arms it’s about the fear psychosis that is created around this fundamental right that our founding fathers knew we just had to have!

  • Ella

    January 27th, 2013 at 5:23 AM

    I am scared to admit that I sadly find that most sections of the country are so divided into political factions about this issue that there seems to be very little constructive listening going on related to this issue.

    We have become so divided and driven by our political beliefs that few have taken the time to step away from the politics of it all and just realize that almost thirty people senselessly lost their lives to gin violence plain and simple.

    I am not even sure that these poor angels could sing loud enough for everyone to hear the message for all of the hate that continues on.

  • S T

    January 27th, 2013 at 10:56 AM

    Violence is everywhere! Video games television movies – our children pick up violence quicker than many other things. Is this cause for concern? Definitely!

    We need to dissociate from violence as a society. Today people resort to violence at the slightest provocation, whether it is a rift with the neighbour or road rage, people are ready to start a fight for the smallest of things. This has to change. Suggestions mentioned here are good and I believe if each one if us ensure we follow them we will soon have a society that celebrates violence a little less and is a little more peaceful than it is now.

  • cody

    January 28th, 2013 at 10:27 AM

    @Sara: Exactly! It’s unwitting for them to out more guns at schools. The question was about keeping guns and schools separated. Now we are going to have the complete opposite. If the government thinks this is the right step we can only imagine how less they are bothered about what is actually required and how much about them rushing to take steps in heed just to appease a community of people most of who don’t know any better.

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