It’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?
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