What Part Do You Play in the Newtown Tragedy?
Human beings are designed to look for meaning, and this is never more apparent than in a tragedy. As quickly as it happens, we search for understanding. We yearn for explanation. We grasp desperately for some clarification that will help us to make sense of the senseless. In an effort to find some place to lay the blame, are we also looking for a way to deflect the blame on where it actually belongs – on each of us?
“Wait a minute!” I can hear from the collective voices. “I have no part in a tragedy of this nature!”
That’s when the inner clambering begins and we all (me included) start giving excuses as to why we hold no culpability. It’s a loud clanging that reaches a fevered pitch, for of course, who would want to claim to have any part in such a heinous tragedy. So, we rail and yell while placing the blame at the feet of our pet project. It’s gun control. Or its lack of good mental health care. Or its lack of stern discipline in childhood. Or it’s the failing school system.
It’s probably all those things-all of those looming, colossal social ills that are entangled in a web of misery and confusion.
But, it’s also a simple issue for which we are all guilty.
I firmly believe that criminals like Adam Lanza are ultimately responsible for their terrible actions. But, I also believe just as strongly that we are responsible for our actions. No man is an island and life doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The way we treat each other has a tremendous affect.
Reports are streaming out about Adam Lanza. They speculate about his mental illness and his parents’ divorce and his diagnosis of Aspergers. It’s hard to know yet which of these things are true and which are just part of a sick media circus that feeds on these kind of details, but they are all out there trying to place blame.
The details that stand out to me (and simultaneously pierce me to the core) are the statements of former classmates. They say things like:
“He never had any friends.”
“No one ever talked to him.”
“The only thing I remember about him was that he was different.”
“He was weird from the time we were five years old.”
Judging from these comments, the best we can hope for from his high school years was that he was ignored. More likely, he was teased, ridiculed, outcast, and bullied. There was no acceptance. There was no place where he belonged. His peers likely regularly reminded him that he was different and unacceptable.
The reason why this aspect of the story strikes me so fiercely is because I also have a child who is different. He has a label for what makes him different, but those are just letters on a page for both of us. Those letters and opinions from psychologists and doctors do nothing to take away the sting of how he is treated by most of his peers.
There is no where that this is more prevalent than at his weekly Boy Scouts meeting. Our Boy Scout troop is unique in that it is comprised of homeschooled kids who have great, involved parents who have managed to lead their kids to a maturity that will launch them as strong leaders later in life. In other words, they are good kids with good parents. Boy Scouts in general, is also unique in that there is a code that is spoken at every meeting that governs behavior. It begins with “A Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind…”
In short, there is no environment safer than this Boy Scout meeting.
And yet, my different son is an outcast. He doesn’t have any friends and he is always alone. But, it doesn’t stop there. If he sits down, it has become a game to see how fast the kids can move so they don’t have to sit by the “weird” kid. On a regular basis, these good kids foolishly and childishly gang up on the “weird” kid to be sure that he is reminded that he does not fit.
I have watched in pain and horror at the silent way this treatment has chipped at my son’s self esteem and directed his behavior. He goes to his Scouts meetings each week defensive and sullen and acts in a way that reaffirms for his peers that he is in fact, a social outcast. It is a vicious cycle where my son, who is brilliant, and funny, and generous, is relegated to the roll of loser.
Watching this play out in my own little microcosm sends a chill through my bones in light of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. If this kind of behavior can happen on a regular basis in such a safe environment with good kids, how much more so is it happening in schools and gathering places where kids join together to find the weakest member and cast them in the roll of loser?
Once a kid is deemed the loser of the group, they take regular emotional jabs and punches until the pain becomes unbearable and often ends in tragedy of one kind or another. The Newtown tragedy has many facets and causes, most of which we will never understand, but a part of it will always belong to those nameless, likely good kids who perpetuated an environment where there was no place for the likes of Adam Lanza.
Which brings us back to guilt. Raise your hand if you have never treated someone poorly, or watched in silence as someone was treated poorly because they were different. I know I have done it more times than I would like to admit. It happens all the time. Adults do it. Kids do it. We do it to strangers and we do it to people we see every day. We allow and perpetuate a culture that permits us to disregard and disrespect others simply because they are different. And that is how we all bear the burden, in big ways and in small ways, of a tragedy like that in Newtown.
Acceptance. It is powerful. It has the power to heal. Lack of acceptance is just as powerful. It has the power to destroy.
Jessica and her family can be described in one word—average. They are a middle class family living in Middle America right smack in the middle of the suburbs with 3 bedroom 2 1/2 baths and a minivan. This fall they are trading all of that to hop into a camper and take off on an open ended trip around the country. You can join the adventure by following along at Suitcases and Sippy Cups