Just when families should be celebrating the holiday season, Newtown, Connecticut families are plunged into grief and despair after 20 of their young children were gunned down in a rage of violence that is difficult to understand. The shock of these senseless killings prompts immediate outrage – about weapons, security, and mental illness, to name a few.
The first reports indicated that the guns used were purchased legally, but that really doesn’t matter when it comes to how they were used – to murder innocent children in the classroom. Security at school is questioned. Should a school be a fortress of knowledge, or a fortress of fear? How do you armor a school building against everything, and still make it a welcoming community asset? Is someone who would perpetrate such heinous crimes mentally ill? If so, what were the warning signs, and was there treatment readily available in the community? Did anyone know, or suspect that their young neighbor was capable of creating such havoc and chaos? The answers are neither simple nor quickly available.
President Obama’s remarks at a memorial service in Newtown were strong, and pointed. “We can’t tolerate this anymore…Surely we can do better than this,” he said. “Is (this) somehow the price of our freedom?” His tough questions can provide the framework for the discussions, and perhaps, legislation that must follow. I was working on the Hill when the assault weapons ban was passed in 1994, and I remember how hard, and harsh, the debates were, but Congress adopted the ban. President Clinton signed the bill, which contained a sunset clause, and the ban expired in 2004. Eight years later, it’s a free-for-all for assault weapons like the Bushmaster used to murder first-graders in Newtown. Surely we can do better…
The vocabulary also needs to change. Listening to media reports last weekend, I was appalled by some of the vernacular used by national news reporters. While some may use slang in private conversations, a better choice of descriptive words would be more appropriate for the public airwaves. In recent years, it seems that people are scared by everything. Media – print and electronic – sensationalize the smallest issue, and commentary becomes edgier and harsher. Shrill voices abound. Is it any wonder that such behaviors are replicated, sometimes without noticing, in family and personal relationships?
The Greek philosophers wrote of four cardinal virtues – temperance, wisdom, justice, and courage – that every person should possess and emulate. Later scholars added diligence, patience, kindness, and humility to the list. We all can benefit from reflection about these attributes in our own lives, and language, and practice them as we move through the holidays, into the New Year. We need to build resilience and capacity about changing the cycle of violence and the broader community response that will be needed to accomplish it. Our children – we – deserve nothing less.