Educators. Students. Community members. Much more unites us than divides us, particularly knowing we all wear multiple hats. Building relationships. Thinking BIG.
Challenging and supporting one another. Developing engaged, empathetic citizens. Please join me in pondering how best to nurture these common ground connections.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Disproportionate Response...and Our Children

Remember last Friday? December 14th? I do too. It was my birthday! And perhaps because of that, I purposefully stayed away from the news. I heard about the tragedy in Newtown, CT, of course. And I was heartbroken. I still am. But I also knew what was in store for everyone that day, and for many days to come—a media frenzy. A focus storm that would undoubtedly cause more harm than good. On so many levels.

So I refused to get pulled in. I've kept informed, but not by allowing the media to tug at my heart and hypnotizing me into believing that every ounce of my emotion needed to be focused on this event. The bandaid solutions that end up being the consequence of these reports and subsequent discussions never work long term, nor do they get at the root of the actual problem.

And so after a week of reflection, here are the three most important things on my mind.

1. Our Thoughtfulness Deficit—We are a society that demands immediate gratification. If we're hungry, we eat whatever is in front of us. We don't think about whether it's good for us and/or how much to eat. We "over-satiate" ourselves. If we're confused, we don't grapple with an idea. We Google it. And we accept the response. If we're angry, we retaliate in order to release the discomfort. (So if there are weapons around that can be used to release this anger, it could very well be the coping mechanism some desperate individual uses to move forward...I know there's much more to this current tragedy. That this situation is not straightforward. But it is still the consequence of a nurtured cultural perspective.) We need to practice what it means to be reflective, how to navigate different emotions, and develop coping mechanisms for our unique feelings. And we must nurture the mentality that an immediate "answer" robs us of our natural, remarkable human condition.

2. Our Mental Health Perspective—Mental Health is one part of our overall well-being and should be treated with the same level of importance as our physical health. Whether mental illness was a factor in the Newtown shooting, however, is unknown. We will probably never know why this happened. Yet, the event has sparked dialogue about our understanding and treatment (or lack thereof) regarding mental illness. But we should be very careful about using this tragic event as the foundation for any sort of improvement in the area of mental health diagnosis, treatment, etc. Too often mental illness ends up being the scapegoat for a host of tragic events. And then we hear words like "evil," or "a message from God," following an inappropriate media diagnosis. This is intolerable and disgusting. In fact there are myriad conditions, as well as levels of said conditions, for mental illness. There are as many as there are physical ailments and disease. We should root our conversation about mental health, particularly with our young children, in a positive context. Whether one person suffers from a physical ailment and another from a mental disorder does not define who they are or what they are capable of contributing to their loved ones or society.

3. The Disproportionate Response—We should be ashamed of our response to this tragedy. Not because we "disproportionally" responded to what happened in Newtown by aching for the victims and their families and community. But to our LACK of response for communities who suffer this type of loss on a regular basis. Is it the number of children who died that provoked our response?  The city of Chicago lost 38 teenagers this past summer. Where was our support for those mothers, fathers, siblings, friends? Where are their candles, teddy bears and prayers? Or is it the fact that so many children died at once that matters? Because 30,000 children die every day from treatable or preventable causes. Why don't we fly the flag at half mast for them? Why don't we demand our government officials respond to those tragedies with the same level of passion and desperation? Or is it the location of where these children died? Most children are killed in a location where we would consider them, expect them to be safe. Or is it the fact that these children look like our children? Live lives like our children? My point is...ALL children deserve this type of response. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE.

It's worth doing some honest reflection. In doing so, we must stop our emotions from demanding some knee-jerk, band-aid solution. We need to look LONG TERM. What solutions, strategies can we develop—not those through an economic or political lens, but in honest-to-goodness cultural improvement—that will work for all, forever? At least that's the bar we should shoot for. I'm in. Are you?


David Barron said...

I agree with you, Joan, and I did the same thing as you in terms of the media - avoided it. The thoughtfulness deficit is something I never thought about. But it is true. We expect everything to be spoonfed to us. Those who stand to gain something from feeding us, extend the spoon and we eat it up. The advent of reality tv has spawned an appetite for human tragedy as entertainment.

We are all too motivated by fear. Again, those who stand to make money from it, feed our fears.

Oh, and, Happy Birthday!

Toby Klein said...

While media can be extremely detrimental to. . .well nearly everyone and everything, I think it's also important to look at the benefits of it. It's because of this media frenzy that we're allowed this opportunity to step back and re-examine ourselves as a community, and as human beings.

I really enjoyed reading this post, thank you for sharing!

Toby Klein said...

I could not agree with you more. It seems as though everywhere we go, we are reminded of the poor decisions and indiscretions of members of our community and of the worldly population.
While the media frenzy portrays the negative, I will also say that it provides a rare opportunity for those who choose to take it--the opportunity to stop, take a breath, step back and realize what truly is important in life.
Thank you so much for sharing, this was a great post to read.