"It's not enough to love your child, your child has to feel loved unconditionally." -Alfie Kohn
In 2002, only three years from the terror that unfolded at Columbine, I wrote the following words as part of the founding mission of TEACH through Love, which was then a children's advocacy group focused on spreading awareness of verbal and emotional abuse --
"Every time a child commits suicide or goes on another school shooting rampage, we struggle to understand why?
Fingers are pointed in every direction - at the media, the music industry, video games, a lack of morality in America, the NRA, but our fingers are never turned inward, toward our own hearts.
It is time to recognize our own words and actions as the cause of an ever-eroding respect for life. It is time to begin the healing of our hearts."
It still remains as part of my website statement today. As I look at these words now, after another unspeakable tragedy, this time at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, I wonder...
Have we done enough?
Are we any better than we were?
Is the conversation changing?
Are we any closer to taking responsibility for the world we have collectively come to know?
It seems that after the initial shock of these kinds of national tragedies wears off, our inner-activists rise up, ready to defend our human right to life and liberty, however one may define that, with righteous indignation, fervor, and sometimes in full-on attack mode.
I wonder why our human nature has us looking for people, things or ideas to blame, rather than investigating the emotional context of how something like this could occur. Or better yet, asking: What is our personal contribution to this culture of cruelty in which we find ourselves? There is no arguing that a lack of empathy is at the cornerstone of society's ills.
But, how did we get here? - is the age old question.
Inciting a self-serving ratings controversy, political pundits trot out every imaginable "expert" to defend everything from gun laws, gun statistics and gun safety to the effects of media consumption, music and the commercialization of children's programming, with a few honorable mentions thrown in for violent video games, mental illness... and now, Autism.
You name it and there is a pundit hosting a debate about it.
But do these debates ever move the conversation beyond finger-pointing and laying blame?
When will we take notice of what is motivating the behavior of people - not just the kids who shoot up schools - but all people.
I was particularly struck by the viral frenzy of "I Am Adam Lanza's Mother" by Liza Long, republished by the Huffington Post. I wondered what everyone found so compelling in this woman's story that it garnered over 300,000 facebook shares.
Apparently it was the familiar bosom of sarcasm and humor.
As an adult with Asperger's Syndrome, I sometimes have trouble discerning "sarcasm" - especially in print, so while I recognized her cry for help, I also cringed at almost every detail of her story and felt terribly for her children.
Maybe I'm too sensitive, maybe it didn't resonate because I think confounding the issues of mental health and mass violence, while alluding to Autism to skew the debate away from gun legislation veers us down the very road I hold out hope that we can, once and for all, avoid.
I am also troubled by the continued implication of Autism as a mental illness and the media's insistence on posing the question, "could an Autism Spectrum Disorder have had something to do with this violent act?" Despite most "experts" denying any link and correctly stating that Autism is not a mental disorder, the news networks continue to repeat it for the nation, ad nauseum.
Then I came across two new perspectives, "Want the Truth Behind 'I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother?' Read Her Blog," by Sarah Kendzior, and "I Was One of the Scary Kids" by Cracked Mirror in Shalott, which together, I believe, help move all the individual debates into the larger context - the one that I wish we could start talking about.
But this context requires a healthy dose of empathy, compassion, tolerance, understanding and perspective shifting.
I feel that Kendzior's and Cracked Mirror's thoughts are important additions to the discussion regarding Long's message about kids and mental illness because, yes, maybe there is a conversation on mental illness that has been sparked, yet again. But when we use fear, criticism, shaming, blaming, or a victim mentality as justification for what we need, I believe we do ourselves, and our children, a disservice.
I don't deny that Long has had many troubles or that her experience has been very difficult for her to handle. It also appears, from her blog, that she is enmeshed in a family dynamic which she helped co-create and which is bearing a great weight on the shoulders of all involved.
In the larger context, I see a woman [read: nation] who seems to make it doubly hard on herself because of the ways in which she (by her own accounts) thinks about, treats and reacts to her children. She needs support and she is not alone. This is a fact.
And this leads me back to my original thoughts about finger-pointing debates where I am right and you are wrong, or where I am hurting and this is the reason I continue to hurt.
I want us to move beyond the "blame game" because our violence problem is not just about gun laws, video games, or mental health access. Unquestionably, we need those conversations with or without the massacres. But the violence that we are experiencing is nothing but a symptom of a much deeper and systemic issue, and the shootings are only a strategy.
You can take away the guns but violence will find a new home.
We have to take up the task of addressing the real root causes. And that conversation begins with how we treat our kids every day and how we treat other people who look, act or think differently.
How do our kids receive our love?
How do we respond to our children most often?
What messages are we sending verbally and non-verbally?
What kind of world are we convincing our children that they live in?
It is only in this space of heart-to-heart connection, anchored in vulnerability, personal responsibility, forgiveness, acceptance and an honest sharing of feelings and needs, that we will find the answers we are seeking on how to change the future.
I hope we can spearhead this new conversation.
What do you think? Let me know by commenting below!
Note: Liza Long & Sarah Kendzior, the authors of the linked posts, have now issued a joint statement to avoid getting caught up in a "Mommy War," which I think is an excellent example of peaceful conflict resolution and exactly the kind of model we want for our children.
Lori Petro is a Mom, Children's Advocate and Speaker. She is passionate about transforming our world through conscious parenting compassionate communication, and peaceful conflict resolution.
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