by Bob Knotts, Founder & President
Yesterday one of the worst mass school shootings in U.S. history happened in the school district where the Humanity Project works, day in and day out. Here in Broward County, Florida, at least 17 people were killed by a disturbed young man. I know this school -- only two years ago, I was there as part of a panel for parents about teen suicide. So today, as we look for answers to school violence, I must offer these personal thoughts.
Look around carefully and reflect on what is in front of our eyes. School shootings can’t be stopped with any quick fix. Liberals want strict gun control. Yes, it’s needed. Yes, it will prevent some deaths by guns. Conservatives call for mental health measures – and yes, better treatments are much needed. But for me, the real problems are embedded in a culture that has long celebrated anti-intellectualism and violence as a solution. Consider the recipe:
We begin with a broth of ignorance as virtue. Our culture, unlike most other modern societies, has long celebrated the John Wayne attitude toward problems: “Hit first, shoot first … ask questions later. But not very deep questions. Afterall, he had it coming.” Many Americans regard intelligent thought suspiciously, nuance as confusing, facts as fluid. Don’t muddy the waters with information that withstands critical thinking. Just do it. Punch the bully back in the face. Shoot the home intruder dead. Elect an unqualified person because he acts tough; he’ll fix things. This is America – and ignorance is our birthright. Step one in the recipe to cultural violence.
Stir in an oversized portion of isolation. Social media doesn’t bring us together. It isolates us. We live with the illusion that Facebook brings connection and Twitter transmits knowledge. They do the opposite. So people resort to treating their dogs like children and their cats like spouses. We are alone and lonely. For the youthful screen-obsessed generations, this has greatly diluted their ability to communicate with people intelligently, if at all. Their noses are buried in trivia backlit by an Apple cellphone. This isolation has changed the culture, much for the worse. For too many reasons to offer here. But for troubled minds, the isolation from humanity and the access to warped points of view and anonymous self-expressions of hate can push some toward violence.
Season with celebrations of ultra-violence. America always has celebrated violence. But not in the way we do today. Kids spend hours daily glued to video games that show shockingly real depictions of explosions, gun deaths and worse. These are portrayed to young minds as cool. Just as bad, so many of our major stars portray action heroes who live and die by the John Wayne mentality: “Shoot first. Don’t think. Violence always is the solution.” How can we convince children that bullying isn’t cool and that respect is cool … when all they admire shows the opposite? Being big and bad and tough, that’s cool according to Hollywood. Every time any one of us buys a ticket to see the latest shoot-em-up by The Rock or Tom Cruise or Charlize Theron we contribute to the problem. Action films make big bucks: therefore action films get made and promoted. To a troubled kid, real violence looks like glory.
Sprinkle with sloppiness, laziness and ineptitude. American society encourages parenting that is about shallow achievements rather than healthy growth. Parents take their kids to every known form of lesson, training and camp – and spend time working on a child’s soccer technique instead of helping them understand what it is to be a human being. Kids need time, space. They need to play and pretend. What child do you know who gets these things in proper proportion? Parents in this country are horrendous at parenting. Schools aren’t much better, though many try. They’re driven by pointless testing rather than real knowledge, by rote learning rather than deep curiosity. No time for anti-bullying programs, no support for training in meditation or projects that teach respect for all people. Because, hey, our school needs to earn a better grade during state testing. Adult attitudes and adult behavior toward kids contribute to violence by those kids who suffer deeper problems.
Finally, mix vigorously with lack of compassion. This is related to our ignorance as virtue, but actually cuts even deeper. Americans are not taught compassion or empathy. We’re taught to be wary of these virtues, replacing them with the judgmental and hard-hearted. As a result, we can’t understand why a kid would take a rifle and kill 17 innocent people. The answer is because that kid isn’t you. Or me. He grew up with very different parents and siblings and experiences. He learned very different values and beliefs. Even his genes are different. Yes, of course you can watch The Rock for 2 hours at the multiplex without being inspired to violence. Because you’re you, with all your relatively stable life experiences. To the troubled kid, the movie means something different. Americans, many people in general, suffer from the delusion that the way a fairly normal person feels about something is the way everyone feels. It isn’t. And for some, the movie and the video game and the culture of violence, the isolation and shallowness slice to their core – and then one day it all explodes suddenly to everyone’s great surprise.
In the end, we need to learn to be human. Humanity is a species of soaring qualities, mostly untapped. Until we accept this idea and work toward the fulfillment of our humanity, the past is mere prologue … and the next shooting is only just around the block.