Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My rant for the week

Barbara here. Like my fellow blogmate Tom Curran, I feel compelled to write about the tragic events of last Friday. The experience, and the ensuing news and commentary, are still too fresh and raw to be ignored. And unlike my other blogmate Rick Blechta, I find everyone is talking about it and trying to get a handle on the lunacy. The lunacy of the slaughter of 20 little children and their teachers (as an aside I note that the school psychologist was also killed rushing to the rescue. Had I been there, that would have been me), as well as the ensuing lunacy that passed for explanations or solutions. Arm the school principals, repeal the concealed carry ban in schools, bring God back into the schools...

In the wake of this relentless media coverage, a thousand thoughts are swirling through my mind and it's difficult to decide what I should focus on in this blog. First there is my very Canadian incomprehension of America's obsession with guns. Indeed, recent commentary on both sides of the debate in the US has me wondering why I would ever risk life and limb to venture south of the border at all. Canadians don't have a 2nd amendment. The bearing of arms is not only not a historical right here but it was actively prohibited or discouraged during the settlement and development of the country. We did not have heroes like Billy the Kid and Jesse James glorifying the power of the six-gun. We had the Northwest Mounted Police confiscating all firearms before permitting entry into a territory or a town. Ordinary Canadians don't expect others to have guns and generally speaking don't think of guns as protection against anything but bears and wolves.

Secondly, there is my incredulity, also Canadian, at the religious imagery being evoked. This massacre happened because "they" took God out of the schools, or in more extremist language because America has descended into sin. As if God has decided to teach the country a lesson, and has targeted these innocent 20 for that purpose. It astonishes me that in the 21st century, in one of the most privileged, enlightened and educationally advanced countries of the world, such dark ages thinking still exists. Not on the lunatic fringes but at the very centre of the corridors of power.

In concert with these explanations come the solutions which are not only ineffective but downright dangerous. Put prayer back in the schools, repeal the gun controls, keep mothers home where they belong, put a gun in the hands of every principal.

This brings me to a third reason I am unable to tune out the debate. The psychologist in me is screaming. "Instead of spouting nonsense, read the research!" Ask those in the know (teachers, social scientists, parents, and kids) why, and listen to the answers. This is not some external "evil come to town". This is a native son who has, like so many before him, hit a wall. Try to understand him – not for his sake, for it's too late for him – but for all the other Adam Lanzas struggling with isolation and nurturing a deadly rage. Try to get into his head and figure out what is needed to help him before the crisis point is reached.

Because in the 31 American school shootings since Columbine, some answers have emerged. I don't pretend to know them all, but here are some. Deadly rage doesn't erupt without warning. The signs are usually there, but someone has to read them. Odd comments, peculiar Facebook posts, behaviour that hints at the "end of the world". Family members, neighbours, friends, and schoolmates are the people best positioned to notice unusual behaviour. Better to feel stupid and alarmist for a moment than to regret for a lifetime. And once a concern is noticed, proper professional help rather than stigma has to be available.

Another research finding. These killings are not a "decadent" urban phenomenon but occur most commonly in the heartland of safe, traditional, often devout suburban and semi-rural communities. Precisely because they are homogeneous and close-knit, these communities offer fewer options to those who are different, especially in adolescence. They isolate and marginalize those who don't, or can't, fit in. By comparison, urban communities have the diversity and school choices that give unique children a place to find support, purpose, and belonging.

If the community is strongly faith-based, the marginalized youth feels even more judged and isolated, lessening the chances he can talk about natural feelings and fantasies that may be condemned as evil or sinful.

Most developed countries, including Canada, have devout, close-knit communities with strong pressures to conform and succeed, but none have the same ready access to weapons of mass destruction. Almost simultaneously with the Newtown killings was an assault of school children in China, but that assault occurred with a 6-inch knife rather than automatic pistols, and not a single child died.

I don't think these research findings are any great surprise. There is no one-answer-fits-all when these tragedies occur, but I think solutions which include at least some of these factors – community vigilance, mental health support, diversity and belonging, non-judgmental religion messages, and intelligent gun control – might make a dent in their numbers.

And if one life is saved...

1 comment:

Rick Blechta said...

A very excellent post, Barbara. It possibly makes too much sense. It is my experience that thinking done deeply and well will be ignored by those most in need of reading the thoughts and comprehending how they address the problems and provide the solutions.

Thanks anyway for saying it.