I’ve been waking up the last couple of nights at 3AM, unable to sleep, and trying to solve the mass shooting problem in my head. More than that, I suppose I am also feeling helpless, because the responses I see to the tragedy indicate to me that there is little common ground on solving this problem but there should be. The quick fix the most vocal among us are advocating for is stricter gun laws. No doubt eliminating guns would make a difference, but I don’t see that happening and if history is any indication, it is likely to have unintended consequences.
Most humans just want to live, love, and experience life. They go about their business, rarely engaging in any significant conflict. The majority has never been the problem. It’s clear if you look back in history, certain kinds of leaders in an effort to maintain absolute control, have left a body count in the millions in their collective wakes. They’ve chosen other tribes, religions or races to direct any anger experienced by those they should be protecting. Disarming these scapegoats first or just choosing people with inferior resources to protect themselves has fit histories tyrants modus operandi. Based on this I understand that people will resist giving up their ability to defend themselves. It also indicates the danger that humans can go along with some pretty horrific themes if we don’t take the time to learn history and avoid repeating it. Sadly, many leaders continue to single out certain ethnic/religious/tribal groups today for self-serving purposes by dividing us. Certain hate crimes have been on the rise and some religious and ethnic minorities around the globe have experienced a sharp rise in oppression and victimization in recent years.
Maybe it is time we question everything we think we know, and come up with ideas on what can actually get done. Start by looking at the root causes and work on solutions to them. Build on successes and be willing to consider alternatives that might not fit the ones our leaders have paraded before us as the simple fixes. Imagine if you had the power to prevent the Florida shooting. I believe that tragedies are averted every day, and not with weapons or words but by the actions of normal people who choose to do something.
The morning of the Florida shooting I sat in a room with some amazing, caring people at my Rotary club. We were all gathered for a very special occasion, the Rotary speech contest. We brought in 8 extraordinary high school students to give their speeches about changing the world. These kids did nothing short of blowing our collective minds. Two themes emerged. The first was kindness, smiles and being good humans changes everyone around us for the better. The second was that kids are experiencing tremendous stress and many of them seriously ponder suicide (about 1 in 4!). They weren’t just talking, as one of the students put it, they were doing. She had gone to her parents concerned about the mental health of her classmates and they told her:
There are two kinds of people in this world, people who complain and people who do.
That young woman went on to fund training for teachers at her school to better understand the signs of these stresses on our kids and to be prepared to help. She now runs a non profit you can support as soon I am able to link to it.
Another boy admitted that he struggled with depression and had considered suicide after failing to deliver his speech at our previous years contest. He was back and delivered the winning speech, inspiring us all and wetting some eyes in the process. He is now working on getting funding to have a full-time counselor to assist kids who are struggling with mental health issues at the school. Wow. Another doer.
As much as I wish there was a simple answer, somewhere to point my outrage, my helplessness. I cannot. I’ve already done that math over and over again in my head and I don’t see the present debates leading anywhere. All I can do is focus on the doer mentality. Instead of complaining about the deadlock, I can be the best dad I can be. I can continue to support anything and everything that improves outcomes for kids. As a Rotarian I can continue to participate in activities that provide opportunities to kids for clean water, shelter after a natural or man-made disaster, leadership and character development. Lastly I can encourage you to do something, anything, to improve the mental wellness of other human beings. Whether that means you just smile and say hello to strangers more or become a court appointed special advocate, Big, or foster parent. Whether you decide to improve outcomes by teaching chess or provide education opportunities to kids you will never meet. Teach kids they matter. If we see something that doesn’t seem right, we can get involved. Whatever you do, just do something. We can’t fix everything but if we can spare one parent and our country the agony of the senseless loss of a loved one, then it is worth it. If you see an argument going nowhere, don’t waste your time with it, focus on being a doer, like those amazing high school kids and others who have improved so many lives for the better with their good deeds. I am guessing most of you already are, as parents, as aunties, as uncles, as fixtures in your community. Thank you for making the world a better place. We can always do more.
A strong foundation can weather many trials. What else can we do to give kids a better foundation to weather life’s challenges?