Greetings and Salutations;
I write this on the morning after a terrible incident in Connecticut, where a madman took the lives of 20 very young children, and 6 adults at a local school. Details about the event are sketchy, as the authorities are still trying to sort out what happened. We may never know exactly what pushed this person over the edge and caused him to think it was a good idea to assemble an honor guard of spirits to escort his soul to Hell. Right now, though, all we can do is reach out to the multiple families for whom Advent will never be the same, and, instead of celebrating Christmas with joy will be going through that gray haze that engulfs one that has lost a loved one.
Americans, as represented on Social Networking sites on the Internet, are expressing shock, grief and anger…as one would expect. However, alas, because this is such an emotional moment for most people, rationality and reason have gone out the door on one, contentious subject. That subject is, of course, gun control. There are many folks right now that are blaming the pro-gun groups, like the NRA for the tragedy. There are many people who are calling for increased regulation, even extending to a complete ban on guns in America.
I can certainly understand their point of view, but, I do disagree with their solution to the problem. I hold that the real problem with American society is rooted in the social changes of the 60s. That generation (and yes, I am one of them, at least in age), discarded the concept of authority figures having any right to tell them how they should live, or what they should or should not do. While some of this change was good…it also damaged the next generation in terrible ways that echo down to the current day. Many of these folks, when THEY became parents, held the attitude that children were nothing more than small adults, and, that it was only right to let them make their own decisions about how to live, and what rules to live by. Now, I totally disagree with this point of view. It has been my observation that children are, essentially, empty vessels when they are born, and, part of the parent’s job is to fill that vessel with rules about loving one’s neighbor; being helpful; being respectful of one’s elders; being ethical in one’s dealing with others; being honest; and having a good work ethic (to cover a few of the important areas). If a parent rejects that task, then the child will pick up whatever garbage floats by and live by those rules. This generated the “Me” generation of the late 70s and early 80s. Those folks reproduced and in too many cases, taught their children that it was their job to get as much as they could for themselves. Among other things, this brought on the increasing disparity of income between the top and bottom jobs in business, and, the sorts of attitudes that created the economic crash of the early 2000s. As a part of this social evolution, the regard and respect for each other that provide strength and energy to society eroded away. I am not a stickler about it, but, even today, it is a little surprising to hear children calling their parents, and, people old enough to be their grandparents by their first name… I am also dismayed when I see the number of folks around who still believe that their reason for living is to get as much gold as they can for themselves and their buddies…and anyone who is not money oriented is a fool and a lesser person.
As another example of how society has changed for the worse in the last 40 years….when I was in elementary and high school, it was not uncommon for there to be one or more fights between students at school. In most cases, it was all about social hierarchy and finding their place in it, Well, in spite of the fact that almost all of us carried pocket knives with us (and some of them were not even of legal length THEN), no one even thought of pulling a weapon out and using it. Call it “honor”, call it “peer pressure”, call it what you want to, it does not matter. It was just a basic rule that fists were the only acceptable way to fight. Since then, it seems like the attitude has changed to the point that everyone is a “gangsta” wannabe, and not only carries a weapon, but, yanks it out for use at the first appearance of conflict. This will tend to escalate the violence well beyond where any of those involved wants it to be…but they get caught up in the moment and cannot (as adults can do) stop and assess the long-term consequences of using that weapon.
So…we have a society now where a fairly large percentage of the people are taught to be sociopaths – who look upon everyone else as a lesser being, who is there simply to be manipulated for one’s own profit. We have too many people for whom “empathy” is a word in a dictionary (that they never open), and, not a guiding principle of one’s life. We have too many people who go to church every week, and, claim to be Christian, but, when they leave the church, they proceed to live their lives exactly opposite to the way that Christ taught we should live. They lie to themselves and others, they cheat, they steal, they are disloyal to friends, They abuse their bodies with sex, drugs and rock and roll in immoderate amounts. And with all this, we are surprised that we are reaping the whirlwind now? We have been building up to these events for decades.
Well, it is a pretty dark picture, I have to say. Now…what can we do to fix it? I am not God (no matter what my inflated ego tells me), so I do not have many answers. However, I would postulate that there are some changes that we, as a society, could make that would begin to improve the situation.
0) Consider your goals as a parent, and what responsibility you and your children have to society as a whole (as opposed to just yourself, or the immediate family). My parents, for example, were fairly old school in a lot of ways. Their basic goal for all their kids was to teach us values and skills that would turn us into ethical, honest, hardworking adults that would be good, productive members both of their family group, and, of society at large.
1) Teach our children the basic values of loving one’s neighbor as one loves themselves, and, doing unto others as we would have done to us. This also means respecting others and their views, even when we do not agree with them.
2) Support the growth of empathy in one’s children.
3) Teach the children to be helpful. When I was growing up, the lesson my parents taught me was that If I see someone struggling with a difficult job, I should not wait to be asked to help…I should go over and help. If that help is rejected (although it has been my experience that it rarely is), then, leave the person alone. But, mainly, do not wait to be asked, because too many people will struggle along feeling that they are alone in the world and have to do it all alone.
4) Teach the kids to be hard workers. This means that, as a parent, we DO have to be the “bad guy” at times. No child wants to go out and pick up yard debris, or mow the grass, or take the garbage out, or clean their room, or any of a thousand other tasks that improve life. It is up to the parents to drag those kids out, and work with them to do the chores they are assigned. As another example from my youth…While growing up, I kind of hated Saturday mornings and Sunday afternoons because I knew that my father was going to to drag me out to help clean up the property, or trim some trees, or weed the garden…etc. As I matured, though, my attitude evolved a bit. I came to realize that these were not just onerous tasks that I had to do, but, were an opportunity for several positive things. They made the environment we lived in more pleasant. They were good exercise. Perhaps most importantly, they provided a period of time where my hands and body were occupied in a task that did not require a lot of attention, so, I could devote most of my thought to more important things – struggling with issues in my life; arguing with God; praying for others, etc. Again…after several generations of neglect, and bad parenting, I see too many youth who refuse to do the tasks given them, with the result that the parents have to do them, or they do not get done, and the environment deteriorates. I recall one incident a few years ago where I had met an acquaintance at his father’s house (which was under construction). Well, he brought his son – who was a freshman in High School, along. Since it was a construction site, there was, of course, debris scattered all over the place. The boy was sent out to pick it up and get it piled in one place to neaten things up a bit while his father and I conferred on some subjects. We were standing by the window, and so I could watch the boy. He walked around for a bit, and picked up three or four pieces of junk, stacked them, and, then went to sit on a pile of lumber and listen to his music player. His father just kind of shook his head at the boy and did nothing to motivate him to get back to work.
5) Teach your children to behave ethically and be honest, even if no one is watching.
6) Teach that it is important to examine oneself and one’s beliefs…to be introspective. Testing what one believes will not (as some have said to me) cause one’s faith to break. Rather it will cause those beliefs to become stronger and better able to withstand the buffeting that the world gives us. Belief and rules to live by are like the muscles of our body. If we do not use them and push them, they atrophy away and become weak and unable to support us when it is important to have them.
7) As has been pointed out to ME a number of times recently, be “mindful” of others. I understand this to be short-hand for thinking of how one’s actions and words affect those around us, and, moderating those actions and words to keep in a positive range. I welcome opinion that expands on this, of course!
8) Teach the children to shoulder responsibility willingly, and, as a side lesson to this, teach them that in the real world, every action we take and every word we say has consequences that can change our lives or the lives of others. Now, my parents did this with us by gradually pulling the walls back as we matured. They made it very clear to me though that with this new freedom came responsibility. They would not automatically bail me out if I got in trouble. Rather, I would have to find a way to make it right. Of course, they were not throwing me in at the deep end of the pool, because when push came to shove, they did step in and provide guidance and help on how to clean up a mess that I had made in my life. As I matured, I reached milestones that were important moments in my life. For example, I remember when I was given my first pocket knife to carry with me. It was a scout knife (appropriate, as I was in the Boy Scouts at the time). I had to learn how to take care of it, and how to sharpen it, and, it was very clear to me that this was a dangerous tool that could hurt me or someone else, and, not a toy. Yet, by giving me that knife, my parents demonstrated to me that they believed I had finally reached a level of maturity that I could take that step and carry the knife; that I would not treat it like a toy; and that I would take good care of it, so when I needed it, it would take good care of me. That taught me big lessons about responsibility, safety and tools. Without getting on one of my other soap-boxes for any length of time, I will say that this is a problem I have with the “Zero-Tolerence” rules in schools these days. Those rules do not do that much to actually keep children safe. But, what they DO is help convince the kids that they will be mewling infants who cannot be trusted with responsibility and that they need to turn all such hard stuff over to the “Nanny State” government.
Now, what should we, as adults, do to improve the situation? Well, much of the same list of items noted above, of course. Beyond that we need to work to be “mindful” of others, as mentioned above. We need to spend more time considering the lessons that our actions are teaching those around us both about us, and about how to live in the world. As an example of the latter, a friend of mine was shocked and upset a few years ago because she had caught her daughter, who was something like 3 years old at the time, picking up a cigarette butt from the sidewalk outside their place of business and trying to take a puff from it. Now, the fact of the matter is that this woman smoked like a chimney, and, her daughter was exposed to it every day. For the little girl, it was a lesson on how to live, so, there was no surprise that she would try and do what Mommy does. As for the former, I have an acquaintance who cannot understand why I am less friendly than I used to be. Well, although his words were sweet and attractive, his actions showed that he looked upon me less as a friend than a useful tool to create things he could not, but, that he could take credit for. I worked for many years as a consultant for his company, which is how we became “friends”, actually. Although he promised, the day I came on board to increase my compensation, not only did he never do it, but, he actually twisted things around so I ended up making less after 18 years than I did at the beginning of the relationship. There were many other examples of his lying to me to manipulate me into doing something for him, but this one will do as an example. The bottom line is that his actions taught me how he really looked at me, and, when I got tired of it I removed myself from his company. As I said to one person that asked me about this “it was costing me more to be his friend than it was worth to me”.
Finally, after much preaching, I want to get to the motivation of the title of this essay. I am using the quote from Shakespeare in regards to whether we should have increased gun control in America. Today, as one might expect, there is a very vocal minority who are calling for everything from the total ban on weapons to an increase in the number of hurdles to purchasing them. There are some folks who are calling for “sanity checks” to determine if a given citizen is mentally stabile enough to be allowed to own a gun. While it is understandable, as many people are horrified and angry at the massacre that happened in Connecticut, it is not the answer to the question of violence. There are several factors that bind the last few shooting incidents together. The guns used were stolen by the killers. The killers had all fallen into the clutches of Evil that had consumed them, dragged them into a very dark place and had made them believe that death was the only path open. The killers all exhibited warning signs that this was what they were building up to – warning signs that were ignored by various people close to them. I am fairly sure that two things would have likely removed these events from our history. Firstly, if the parents of the children had followed some of the guidelines I presented above. Secondly, if those folks around the shooters had taken some actions to help deal with the Darkness they saw forming. It is a basic truth that “All that needs happen for Evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing”. It is the job of parents and society as a whole to keep an eye on the children, and, not only save them from getting into trouble, to do what is necessary to derail the process when we see them taking a path of Darkness. Sometimes this DOES mean tramping on their “civil rights”, such as they are. However, we have scientific studies that show that the brain develops over the first 20 years of life, and, that it is true that a 15 year old does NOT think like an adult. We all did stupid things when we were growing up, things that put us on a track that was self destructive or Evil. We lucky ones had proactive people around us that helped pull us back. The less lucky ended up badly. As another example, when I was growing up, it was unusual for me to have a friend’s family who did not have several guns in the house. We were one exception to that rule, and, by the time I left college, I had met a few more. Yet, in spite of the fact that a huge percentage of the population had guns, there was very little gun violence. Even back in the 70s and 80s, most of the shootings were confined to the inner cities, where gangs and drug related violence roamed the streets.
That having been said…I do not believe that guns are the issue here, and, adding yet more regulations to the already existing, thick mat of them would not help matters. Rather we need to work to focus on finding ways to improve the education of the citizens; We need to encourage each other to be more understanding of differences between people; and, finally, we need to take that step that requires some courage – that step of intervention when we see Evil growing. These are not easy things to do, and, none of us can do them perfectly, but, for America to return to a positive path, and, for these mindless acts of violence to become less frequent, we all must work towards these goals.