Some Thoughts about the Sandy Hook Elementary School Tragedy

While we increase police patrols and lock more doors, let’s invest at least as much energy and resources in protecting and nurturing the minds, hearts and souls of our children.

As a parent and Head of School, I have been unable to stop thinking about the awful events that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School. As individuals and as a nation we are going through stages of grief. Anger that such a thing could happen and a search for the unanswerable question of why; and if a motive could ever be found, it would remain an unsatisfying discovery, as no motive is justification for that heinous crime. 

And so we move on to blame and responsibility – as if that would bring satisfaction or that even a single cause could ever be connected to the mass murder. Our nation’s conversation is focused on gun control and mental health.  They are important and necessary conversations.  

And while changes in those areas are necessary, no amount of gun control legislation would ever be sufficient to stop such meaningless slaughter. Our approach to mental health is in desperate need of change. As a parent of a child with mental illness, it is closer to my life than most. There is much to be said about how we address these issues, but that is for another time.

There is something glaringly missing from the national conversation. It is safer to point fingers away from ourselves. The government is responsible because of lax gun laws. Or the media is responsible because of all of the violence it promotes.  Or health care insurers are responsible for lack of access to good mental health care.

We do need better gun laws, better mental health care and a more open understanding of mental illness. Our children are exposed to a lot of violence in the media, but we forget that children have always been exposed to violence; just read a fairy tale!

We are avoiding the more uncomfortable conversation – the conversation about the fabric of our culture and society. President Obama is right when he says that a society is judged by how it cares for its children. Our Jewish tradition takes it further – we are judged by how we treat all vulnerable people in our society.  God demands justice and compassion!

The American ethos of self-determination, the individual independent of community, has led to a society that is increasingly filled with self-absorbed individuals in the endless pursuit of self-satisfaction and personal happiness. Our consumer-driven economy plays into that drive. The result is an overarching lack of responsibility to others. We do not want any person or any institution telling us what to do or how to act. We have taken “all about me” to new heights.

It is not that we do not do good things. Americans are charitable, and in crises we see strangers reaching out to those in need. 

Why is it we live in a culture where it is cool to be “bad,” “tough,” and physically powerful, but when someone calls for people to own their actions, be responsible for their choices and do what is right and just, that person is judged self-righteous or arrogant?  In others words, no person, no institution, and no God can tell me what to do.

Is it a coincidence that fewer people are involved in religious pursuits or interested in being guided by organized religion than at any other time in our society?  In America more people claim to be spiritual, looking for personal ways to connect with God and the universe, but again, this spirituality is about the self, not the other.

One of the changes our society needs to diminish senseless killings in schools, malls and movie theatres begins at home. There is a quote that says, “Let everyone sweep in front of his own door, and the whole world will be clean.”  It begins around the dinner table where parents care more about raising good people than about being their children’s good friend. Parents need to teach love, compassion and responsibility for one’s actions and choices.  Parents need to be there for their children, leading by example. It needs to be “cool” to be good, to care about others, to face our choices, and to recognize the world is not “all about me.” And parents need a structured community of shared values to help.

It is not enough for us to rally around our neighbors just in a time of crisis. It is not enough for our politicians to stop being uncivil to each other only after the slaughter of children. Civility, compassion, concern and actions that help others need to be ever-present in the fabric of our culture.

It’s easier to point fingers at Washington. However, if we really want to create a just, compassionate and safe society, it needs to begin with each of us and with each and every school and community. The murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School were horrific, and yet we are still fortunate to live and go to school in a relatively safe environment. The greater risks our children face each and every day are emotional and developmental rather than physical.  

So while we increase police patrols and lock more doors, let’s invest at least as much energy and resources in protecting and nurturing the minds, hearts and souls of our children. Goodness and compassion are not natural. They are learned. Too many people think they are good because they do not break laws.  They are merely not criminals. An absence of goodness can lead to unethical, selfish, and in extreme cases, criminal behavior. We need to be intentional when teaching our children and we need to be clear that we care as much or even more about their actions as we do about their grades!

Better gun laws, a more systemic and compassionate approach to mental illness, fostering responsibility in our young people, and more attention spent to creating a society where compassion, love and concern for helping others is as least as important as individual freedoms, will go a long way to decreasing this type of violence.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Col. Duke Lacrosse December 27, 2012 at 10:08 PM
Here's your link honey: http://www.amazon.com/More-Guns-Less-Crime-Understanding/dp/0226493660/ "On its initial publication in 1998, John R. Lott’s More Guns, Less Crime drew both lavish praise and heated criticism. More than a decade later, it continues to play a key role in ongoing arguments over gun-control laws: despite all the attacks by gun-control advocates, no one has ever been able to refute Lott’s simple, startling conclusion that more guns mean less crime. Relying on the most rigorously comprehensive data analysis ever conducted on crime statistics and right-to-carry laws, the book directly challenges common perceptions about the relationship of guns, crime, and violence. For this third edition, Lott draws on an additional ten years of data—including provocative analysis of the effects of gun bans in Chicago and Washington, D.C—that brings the book fully up to date and further bolsters its central contention." "...no one has ever been able to refute Lott’s simple, startling conclusion that more guns mean less crime..."
Lianne Mathie December 27, 2012 at 10:48 PM
I will speak slowly so you can follow Duke. Post your links to the facts you stated above. I don't want to buy your book on Amazon. Amazon sells products, not facts. I will wait and if you need further direction I will walk you through the process of having a meaningful debate supported with facts.
Col. Duke Lacrosse December 27, 2012 at 10:55 PM
Where are your facts honey? Where are your facts that implementing gun control resulted in milk and honey and peace throughout the land? Myth: Britain has strict gun control and a low crime rate Fact: Since gun banning has escalated in the UK, the rate of crime – especially violent crime – has risen Myth: Concealed carry laws increase crime Fact: Four states require no permit to carry a concealed firearm, 37 are “shall-issue” states where non-felons receive permits on demand, eight states may or may not issue permits, and one state allows no form of concealed carry. Statistics for each CCW state show that crime rate fell (or did not rise) after the right-to-carry law became active. Fact: Crime rates involving gun owners with carry permits have consistently been about 0.02% of all carry permit holders since Florida’s right-to-carry law started in 1988. Fact: Florida's homicide rate fell from 36% above the national average to 4% below after CCW enactment and remains below the national average (as of the 2005 reporting period).
Lianne Mathie December 27, 2012 at 11:24 PM
Wow, Im going to have to take this REALLY SLOW. You said, Pirate Lacrosse, that 13 million jews were killed. Here's a LINK that says different. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/killedtable.html You said Uganda established gun control, actually there was a brutal dictator there. Same as with Cambodia. http://www.factcheck.org/2009/05/gun-control-in-australia/ If you check your "Facts", well, they are wrong. So, that makes YOUR statements incorrect and most of all rhetoric. So sweetheart, let me put it this way, you can read a lot of things on the web, but blogs don't make them true. They are opinions. And that is what you have been doing here, giving your opinion, sans facts to support the rationality of your argument.
Old Goat December 29, 2012 at 04:48 AM
Zoltan, "States with stricter gun control laws have fewer deaths from gun-related violence". Chicago just passed 500 murders, and they have very strict gun control laws. How's that gun control working for them?


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