For the “Christmas in July” theme that seems to be upon us in the commercial world, I repost the following essay from Christmastime, 2012. Sadly it still remains relevant today. I wonder if we have learned anything.
**12/2012 I sat down to write a cheerful Christmas season blog and couldn’t. Instead I am writing a piece that addresses the recent school massacre in Connecticut. This isn’t just another opinion, nor just a plea from a distraught parent, but it is a research and experience-based essay that I hope will inform and persuade action.
My credentials are numerous – a mother, step-mother, licensed school psychologist and public health educator, former school teacher, bible-reading, church-going Catholic, Independent voter, whose doctoral research was on the social-emotional development of children. For over 30 years I have worked with adolescents and children with every type of problem, dysfunctional family systems, parents wanting to improve their parenting, teachers, administrators, anti-bullying experts, mental health professionals, and clergy.
The problem of violence in our society and world is not a single-issue, single-cause problem, and it will take a multi-prong approach to solving it. I’m going to take the issues one at a time:
*Violence begets violence; hate begets hate and so on…: Long-term exposure to violence in video games, media, within homes and among different groups of people such as in war-torn countries contributes to an increase in violent behavior. It tends to desensitize a person and contributes to insensitivity to the pain of others. When societies model war as a solution to differences and problems, they send the message that violence toward others is acceptable. We tend to glorify war and hold up fighting and killing as a symbol of strength. We need to re-think this and bring civility, collaboration etc back into favor.
*Self-rightousness: “My way or the highway.” “I’m right, you’re wrong.” These are absolute, grandiose statements that may contribute to the mentality that I am better than you are…you are worth less than I am…we’re not in this together…you’re different and different is bad…only my rights are important… This type of thinking, of categorizing “others” through prejudice and intolerance can set the stage for future violent events or at the least indifference toward the suffering of others who are different. Bullying occurs in homes, schools, churches, workplaces – no place is immune to it’s destructive impact.
*Fear: Fear corrupts. It can drive a person to acts in ways they might not normally behave. The fear of not having enough can lead to greed. The fear of differences can lead to prejudice and hate. Many times, groups who claim to have the strongest religious beliefs can appear to be the most fearful and less tolerant. Fear of rejection, loss of esteem…I could go on and on. Fear is contagious and multiplies when like-minded individuals get together and feed off each other. This can occur at the local level as well as at the societal level. One doesn’t need to go much further than the examples of ethnic cleansing in numerous countries throughout history.
*Disrespect: Sadly, at the highest levels of government and institutions, the level of disrespect for the dignity of others, opinions of others, differences of others, etc… are often modeled. We seem to have lost our ability to be respectful, kind, generous, thoughtful, charitable, understanding, etc. If our leaders are incapable of compromise and working together for the good of all, then the great Judeo-Christian values that we espouse verbally, are no more than hot air. Some reality shows on TV depict back-stabbing, cheating, deceit, lying, etc as those behaviors and virtues that are encouraged and judged worthy. Politicians and others in the public eye use slurs, violent sayings, and other destructive comments to further their cause while depicting their opponents as evil and “less than.” Is this the message we want to send? If a person has no empathy for others – that person is deemed a sociopath. Do we want to raise more sociopaths?
*Parenting: I am an optimist. I believe in the goodness of people and I believe after all my years of working with families that most parents are trying to be the best parents they can be. But just wishing and trying doesn’t make it so. We have neglected parents…have not provided them with the education and support they need to “get it right.” We train people to be plumbers, accountants, athletes, teachers, doctors etc…but we fail to provide the rudimentary training and help that parents need. Biology makes a person a mother or father, but it doesn’t guarantee that person will be a good parent. Researchers have known for years that what is important is the “goodness of fit” between parent and child. Children have different personalities, needs, styles of interacting, etc… and a parent may need help meeting those needs. In our society too many men especially walk away from their responsibility as parents and we do not seem to care or realize the devastating impact on the children. Domestic violence is real and children who are abused often grow up to be abusers. What may be seen as harsh punishment by one child may work with another will no ill effects. It has been shown, however, that emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse at the hands of a parent figure is highly correlated to aggressive, suicidal, and anti-social behavior in children. Let’s help our parents.
*Mental Health: The stigma of mental health problems is finally being addressed, although for some it still is something to be ashamed of and to hide. As a society we have not given priority to the mental health needs of individuals. When mental health facilities closed their doors years ago, the mentally ill did not successfully negotiate integration into society…many are homeless, underemployed, ill and addicted. We send our young men and women into harms way in war-torn countries and then ignore their serious mental health problems when they come home. We cannot expect to expose others to violence and destruction with no resulting psychological problems.
*Guns and gun control: Stricter access to guns and bullets, especially those not associated with hunting, makes sense as we already limit access to the use of automobiles, and dangerous equipment. Regulations will not prevent the collector or hunter from pursuing their passion. Nor will they infringe on 2nd Amendment rights.
*Tougher enforcement of laws and stricter treatment of criminals who use guns: While few would argue that criminals need to be held accountable, only focusing on criminals, as though that is the solution, is short-sighted. A person becomes a criminal after a crime is committed. PREVENTION is far better than reaction after the fact. We do this in disease prevention, and violence should be treated like a public health problem.
I could go on and on, but I’ll stop here. If you think that something needs to be done to stem this madness, to end the violence, share this with others and take action yourself. There are many groups dedicated to stopping the violence. We need to unite in one voice and demand that all facets of the issue be addressed. We need to respect the rights of all – and we can do that while ending the madness.