(Song Dedication: Call and Answer by The Barenaked Ladies) Obvious but no less true
This most recent school shooting tragedy has me contemplating what so many others are trying to unravel. How can something so violent and senseless happen in a place of learning? A place that fosters creativity, curiosity, inclusion and a hope for our future generations (as I wrote that last sentence, I felt the urge to repress a headshake and deep exhale as I overstate my idealism of a place I have chosen to make my own career.)
As a parent, I have gained valuable insight into what many students experience on a regular basis. You would think as a teacher of over ten years I would have earned the same vantage point but it’s different when you are in it; with a ratio of 1 adult to over twenty students. As a mother of a first grader, however, I have come to see the exposure of the vulnerability of my son in a school setting. This is challenging in its various forms of experiences and frequency.
With the emergence of details into this young man’s life in Florida – the dots connect and they render an all too familiar portrait of a vulnerable human being. Losing both parents, father at age 6 and his mother only months ago. He lived with autism and was ostracized for his inability to fit in, angry for an overall lack of acceptance and an overwhelming disconnect from his community. As much as some people will continue to throw hate in his direction for his unforgivable act, the fact still remains; he is just another human being who took others lives because he believed he had no other choice.
This lack of choice is all too common a reality so many people face. Yes, you and I can see he had other options – but from where he existed – he did not see another way in his world and his context. A world built on loss, suffering, abuse, trauma, and otherness. This young man had been sending out distress signals for some time (perhaps his whole life). He did not just suddenly pick up a gun and shoot – there were many culminating circumstances, many without intervention that lead him to this choice.
In a society that has its “highest powers” espousing the virtues of otherness (us vs. them) it’s no wonder that some people are going to snap under this pressure cooker of divisiveness. But this isn’t something we can only pin on our political leaders. What about the communities in which these children are being raised?
This is not a shame and blame, but a call to action.
If everyone, yes everyone, recognized the power they hold to counterbalance these types of events, we may just have a chance to help each other out of this bloody mess. We have our heads down at best, if not completely in the sand. We lack eye contact, smiles of acknowledgment, a sense of recognition for each other. We have allowed the idea of “otherness” to permeate our being. I’ve done this too, believe me. With thoughts of I just want him to be liked and accepted…to fit in…to be kind to others….thank god it’s not him being left out. In this idealism for my son, I’ve found myself excluding that “other kid with behaviour issues” from coming over to our house for a playdate. Imagining an afternoon of Lego turning into Kiddie Fight Club. And it could possibly happen, but if I have my head up and am willing to get my hands dirty and help mediate if things go south, isn’t that what we call parenting? Maybe having a friend over to play doesn’t mean its a free ticket to tea-couch-book land the whole time.
I am stepping back to see the forest through these tiny trees – my son’s generation – young saplings all needing the same resources to thrive. Good soil, water, sunshine (lots of sunshine = LOVE). Not only do I hope my son feels acceptance for his true self from others (not just his family), I hope the children around him feel this too. Every. Single. One. If we want to see senseless violence dissipate, we need to model for our youth how to accept everyone. Value every life regardless of colour, gender, culture, belief, orientation, socio-economics, behaviour, passion or hatred. The one common thread that can suture the wounds of otherness is made from compassion and acknowledgment.
And BTW, senseless is the last thing we should be associating with violence. It takes a culmination and an overloading of all our senses; sight, smell, sound, touch, taste, emotional, intellectual to lash out in such a devastating way.
Let’s stop ignoring each other and expecting our children to do better. Let’s lead by example when we connect with other humans and honour their existence – hopefully, our children will strive to do so as well because they will have the knowledge to do so. If you have an opportunity (and you will if you are “heads up” paying attention), pick up the humanity phone the next time it’s ringing off the hook. It’s another human on the other end “calling for help” the best way they know how (it might not be direct language – it might be actions based communication). Please, please pick up and answer because you never know how your presence can change the trajectory of your fellow human being’s life.