I am greatly saddened and heartbroken to hear of yet another school shooting in America. School should be a place of safety, where young people go to learn and develop social skills and friendships and become equipped for their future so that they can go out in the world and be functioning, contributing members of society. As a very dear friend of mine, who is a teacher, says, students should be raising their hands in school to answer questions or to ask questions, not in fear, not because they need to show the SWAT team that they are unarmed. Tragedies like this result in traumatised young people and if they don’t get the help they need to work through the trauma, the impact will be far reaching.
This post is not about gun control. It’s about society. It’s about a generation to whom violence is normal. So many of the primary school aged children I work with play video games and watch movies that are inappropriate. So many of the primary school aged boys I work with have severe anger issues and who openly tell me that they want to resolve their issues through violence. And some of them do. They have become – or are becoming – so desensitised to violence that it doesn’t shock them or horrify them but is seen as means to resolving problems and “paying back” people for real or perceived offences.
Are we, as a society, to blame? We may not have the gun issues in Australia that America does, but we have bullying, domestic violence, assault, degradation, and women being perceived as purely objects for the gratification of men. We have self-harm and suicides. We have threats of wars, poverty, pressure to perform, and competition to succeed. It is a tough and ugly world for young people to grow up in sometimes. Working in welfare, I see the effects of a disillusioned, disconnected, hopeless generation who have severe mental health issues and who feel alone, misunderstood, and who have lost all hope. One of the most heartbreaking things I have ever heard is when a beautiful young girl who is currently in Year 6 told me that she had no hope and that she felt trapped.
And what about the perpetrators? What about the young man who walked into that school in Florida, set off the fire alarm and started shooting randomly? What drove him to that point? Did he have mental health issues? Most likely. Was he too desensitised to violence? Possibly. Was there unresolved/unaddressed trauma in his background? Maybe. Or was it simply outright evil. We may never know. I can’t help but wonder if the outcome could have been different if someone had taken the time to really get to know this boy who appeared to be a loner, encourage him, find out about his interests, and even build enough of a relationship with him to talk with him about his obsession with guns and violence. We’ll never know.
I love this quote by Jeffrey R. Holland:
“And if these children are unresponsive, maybe you can’t teach them yet, but you can love them. And if you love them today, maybe you can teach them tomorrow.”
Although this quote is aimed primarily at teachers, I believe the principle behind it can apply anywhere. It applies with the young people I work with in residential care. It applies with the students I work with at my schools. It applies to anyone, young or old, who maybe just needs someone to simply love them, not judge them or try to change them, but just love them and accept them and take the time to build relationship with them.
People, young and old, need to feel as though they matter. That they have value. We all do. Another quote that I really like is by Mahatma Gandhi:
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
I don’t have all the answers. I wish that I did. I wish that I could wave a magic wand and make the pain go away and the future look bright for this generation. I can’t. But I can do something. We all have a part to play. We can’t afford the luxury of throwing our hands up in the air and dismissing this because it’s too big. We might not be able to reach everyone, but we can all impact someone and make a difference in their lives. It’s time to start thinking about how we can do that. It’s time to be mindful that what we say and what we do will impact others either positively or negatively. It’s time to stop the throwaway comments, it’s time to stop speaking without thinking. It’s time to stop labelling people. It’s time to start looking for the good in people and start encouraging them, building them up, showing them that they can have hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). It’s time to pray, really pray, for this generation. God will bring the right people across someone’s path who will literally change the course of that person’s life. It might be too big for us, but it’s never too big for Him.
One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy hurriedly picking up and gently throwing things into the ocean.
Approaching the boy, he asked, “Young man, what are you doing?”
The boy replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up, and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.”
The man laughed to himself and said, “Don’t you realise there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make any difference!”
After listening politely, the boy bent down picked up another starfish, and threw it into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said,
“I made a difference to that one.”
We can make a difference.