Susie Csorsz Brown
Again ... use your words
Again. It happened again. As we currently live on the other side of the planet from Tennessee, we didn’t wake up to the horrific news but rather started to hear about it, in little dribbles midday.
What is a school? A school is a place that people – from the very young to the old – go to learn. They gain information, they gain abilities, and they learn to be around and with other people. They learn the 3 Rs, they learn skills, they find their footing and passions. Schools are a haven, offering a place to do all of the aforementioned, as well as meet new people, make friends, and gain mentors. School is where young children get their first influence from adults outside of their family. School is a place to grow.
Except this week – again – this wasn’t true anymore. Again, a barely grown woman chose instead to make school a place to die. What makes a person do that? What series of events must happen in order for a person to take an arsenal to a place she had no business being, and start killing people? Start killing children? The awfulness of this deliberate slaying in a place that is supposed to be a growing place … I just can’t wrap my head around it.
When I first heard about it, I wanted to gather my kids, run and hide. How do we live with this inevitable invisible threat? How do we keep our kids safe? How do we not run, Croods-style, at every twig snap?
Again. How are we in a place where we have to have ANOTHER conversation with our kids about killing and hate and gun laws? I ask you, how many people – mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, daughters, sons and grandparents – do we need to lose before we learn that every single person deserves to live their lives, and they deserve to do so with the same rights, regardless of gender, skin color, ethnicity, religion, sexual preference or any other belief? Regardless of who they are, what school they have chosen, what classroom they sit in.
Again. School shooting after mall shooting after concert shooting after shooting after shooting… it seemingly never ends. These people that were shot, they are people. Not just people, friends. These were brothers, sisters, daughters, and sons. These were fellow friends. And now, instead of them being able to enjoy breakfast with their own families, I have to tell mine about how these young people lost their lives. It is heart-breaking.
I am so saddened by this whole thing as a person, as a caring human being who honestly does her best to find the good in people. I am even more disheartened by this as a mom who has kids scrambling to grow and find their footing in this world. What is this world we are giving to our kids? One where we have to tell our kids that another shooting happened and more fathers, mother, sisters, brother, sons and daughters - people - lost their lives? Their 'why?' echoes in my heart because I just don't know. I want to help them understand but I cannot myself find any reason at all, can’t fathom why one would ever commit such an act against others. There is, in this case, a clearly guilty person, but how did she get to this breaking point? I am not pointing fingers. I am suggesting, though, that there exists a pattern of pathologically not accepting responsibility for our actions and words in our world today. Maybe our collective lack of ability to accept culpability is at the heart of this. At our house 'not me' and 'I dunno' play a key role in various acts around the house. I think probably the hardest three words for any growing child to really fully grasp and own are: I. did. and it. Why is it so hard for kids to accept responsibility for some action? Maybe it's because they don't see enough adults modeling the appropriate behavior, or perhaps because they see a number of adults modeling exactly the kind of behavior we DON’T want our kids to adopt: the finger-pointing, the name-calling and the flag-waving. I know it’s hard. Owning up is a very very hard thing to do, stepping up to take responsibility, to face the potential and unknown wrath, to accept blame. It is hard. But, it also has to be done. And then we can to move on. It’s not about blame. It’s about changing so we don’t do it again. Learning and moving on. Let's not wake up to yet another story; let's bring change.
I think it is imperative that at this moment, we hold those dear to us as close as possible. This is also the time when it is so incredibly important for us to reach out, too, because what makes us stronger are the ties that bind us to our Families (capital F) and families (small letter f). Your community, your neighbors, your fellow grocery store users. Each and every person has a role in your life and in theirs; they are important.
I don’t know. I feel as though we need to do better for our kids. I think it is important that we teach them some valuable lessons about what is important. I mean, I know you do teach them valuable things, every day, but … we’re missing something here. Their lives are so very different from what our own was like at their age. They will never know what life is like without internet. They don’t understand what it’s like to not have Amazon. They don’t even know what it’s like to not have easy access to mobile phones. In so many different ways, their ‘reality’ is very dissimilar to what ours was like at their age. Everything is different – communication, interactions, learning methods – and maybe a few old-school lessons are important. Now our schools have guards. Our schools have scanners and metal detectors. Our kids go to school with clear backpacks and they know how to do ‘intruder drills.’ In the same way that we have to do 'duck and cover' drills at the embassy and many work places, our kids have to learn how to protect themselves should a shooter come on their campus. I mean, we knew this was coming, right? These 'soft targets' are just out there, waiting to get attacked. Except, these aren't just 'soft targets,' these are the schools we send our children to. These are the malls we shop in, and the hotels we visit. These are the concerts we attend and the bars and restaurants we visit. These 'soft targets' are the place we live and spend our time. What are we supposed to do, hide? I don’t want to live my life hiding; I want to live my life living, and I don’t believe that I should have to harbor a piece of fear for my life and that of my children’s just because there are those that feel that they are the ones that get to play God, and they get to choose who will die that day. No amendment-given right to bear arms usurps the human right to live.
In our house, real guns are not allowed. Of course, if there lives a little boy, then his imagination alone can create a gun out of pretty much anything from a two-block Lego creation to a stick to a finger to a gnawed pancake. Sadly, there exists a nerf gun arsenal in our living room; sure, sure, they are neon orange and shoot foam bullets but they are still guns. Often, I go off on why I am so anti-gun, and the boys tolerate my viewpoint. The bottom line is, though: Guns don’t kill people alone, though. People kill people. But all too often, their choice of method – especially in these seemingly increasingly occurring mass-slaying events – is a gun. Or three guns.
Yesterday, my eldest asked me if something had happened at another event. He is 18, starting to really understand what evil really is. Too young, I think, but … I can’t not talk to him about it. At dinner, we talked about what happened. About this shooting, about past school shootings, and the one 20 years ago in Columbine. We talked about the massacre in New Zealand and the retaliation in Sri Lanka. We’ve talked about September 11, and what happened. We’ve talked about incidents at hotels, music concerts and at celebrations. I told him what I could without dwelling too much on it. This time, though, all I could think to say was that again, places considered to be ‘safe’ were once again turned into a place where people died because one man no longer understood what it was to care about humanity. Because this girl was so upset and confused and who knows what, that she chose to kill innocent people instead of seeking help for her misplaced anger. A gun is never, ever the answer. Ever.
Did I explain this right? I don’t know. I have no inkling what would bring a person to commit this sort of crime. I have no idea what mindset could have beset a person to come to the conclusion that they apparently came to. At the end of our conversation, after tightly hugging my boys tight, my eldest said, ‘This is why you don’t like guns and bombs, isn’t it?’ And I could only agree. You know what I was thinking as I hugged my boys? I was so grateful. I was so grateful that I could do that; I can’t imagine how those parents are feeling, those that lost their children this week. They took them to school to learn. To celebrate youth and discover something new and revel in all that is beautiful in a young person’s world. And then their worlds were shattered. This breaks my heart that another would have such audacity and disrespect for others that they would bring such pain and horror to others. Where do we go from here? I feel as though we are slowly circling around a horrible abyss, but we still have the ability to claw our way back to where we can be standing on firm – and safe – ground. I’m an optimist; I like to think we can get back there. I pray, for the sake of my children and for those just like them, that we can fix what has become broken.
Three things I think we need our kids to understand (and fully understand ourselves, I guess):
1. What you see is not always real. Have you ever seen the first Indiana Jones movie, where Indie is trying to find Marian, who was just snatched, and there are masses of people everywhere. Then, all of a sudden, the crowd clears a bit and this über-swordsman comes forward, swinging his sword, and we get to witness all sorts of fancy tricks. Indie pulls out his gun and shoots him, turning away for the next scene. Hmm. Sure, the good guy finds the girl, beats the bad guy, gets the loot, but what happens to the swordsman? This scene, considered by most to be one of a few lighter moments in an otherwise tense stretch of the film, sticks in my head. It's not funny to kill people. It's not something you can undo. It's not something that we can gee-I'm-sorry away, and make it all better. Okay, Indiana Jones is an older movie, but the movies our kids are watching today are increasingly, shamelessly and needlessly violent. The toys they play with are increasingly and needlessly battle-focused and (again) violent. The video games they spend more and more time playing (alone, without positive social human-to-human interactions) are increasingly violent. They spend their time shooting through bad guys, killing one after another, but, it's okay, because at the end of the show/game/play hour, we clean it up and it's all gone. We get a do-over. In real life? If we get our panties in a wad about some one thing or another, and opt to go get our gun and take care of it? Well, we don't get a do-over. That action is real and we can't take it back. Do your kids really know that? My suggestion? After a gunfight in a movie, or a video game killing spree, take the time to have a brief conversation with your kids about why what you just saw is not real. Can't be real. Shouldn’t happen. Yes, you do have time. It doesn't have to be an hour-long marathon discussion (trust me, your kids will tune out after 5 minutes anyway, and then it will just be you rambling on and on about gun control). Instead, keep the language simple, ask them what they thought. Ask them what would happen if that happened in real life. Could that happen in real life? And, maybe most importantly, why SHOULDN'T it happen in real life? Honestly, if you feel your kids are old enough to watch that sort of interaction on the screen, or play that sort of game, then yes, they are ready for this conversation. It is important. Help your kids understand the difference between what is going on on-screen and in-pretend and what is happening in real life; this is a valuable lesson and literally cannot be repeated too often.
2. Your words matter. I am admittedly pig-headed when I hurt myself. I remember a couple summers ago, I fell (stupidly, walking and trying to find the directions on the map on the phone at the same time; PSA: stop walking when using your phone.) Not only did I hurt my knee and my hand and shatter my phone screen, I also got tight-lipped and bitchy at everyone that tried to help me. Everyone with me tried to help me. Even strangers were handing me tissues for my oozing knee (it really was gross). At the time, I was so embarrassed. In hindsight, though, I greatly appreciated the generous nature of those helping me. 'Are you alright?' 'Can I help?' 'Do you need anything?' 'Can I call someone?' Small words, but generous actions. And they make a big difference. It's powerful to see when kids see how big of an impact their caring words can have on others. Words are tools one can use to create warmth, harmony and inclusivity. Words are also tools one can use to harm and impair. It's important to consider and choose wisely the impact one has.
3. Your actions matter. What you do, every day, has an impact on another person. If you turn right instead of left, your interactions are with different people; if you run out to the store, and forget to buy eggs, you have to change your intended recipe, making breakfast different for your family, perhaps helping them to ace their exam because they loved the new recipe you tried instead; if you do laundry every day, your son gets a happy smile on his face as he breathes in the dryer-tinged air every time he circles by the dryer vent; you allow a car to enter in front of you on an otherwise bumper-to-bumper filled road, giving that driver that extra 10 minutes for him to make his appointment where he will be delivering a DVC speech about a new life-saving medical technique he's discovered, spreading his genius around the global medical community (okay, that one is a bit of a stretch … but you never know!). Small simple gestures. Positive actions: a quick hug sends your kids off to school with a warm feeling, letting them spread their good spirits to their friends; a warm note to your friend lets her know you care and she spreads the care on to her family; you take the time to chat with your favorite supermarket checker who gets a smile on her face and passes on good cheer to the next customers as well; you send a 'Thank you for all you do' note to your kids' teachers during Teacher Appreciation week, helping them to realize that they really DO make a difference. Reaching out to others, regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual preference, and building your community of people of every sort makes a difference. Include include include.
Negative actions: you crab at your hubby, who then goes to work and grouches at his secretary, who in turn forgets to remind him about an important meeting he has, and he arrives late and unprepared; the teacher has a fender bender on her way to work, making her late and angry, and she yells at the kids leaving them disgruntled and disconcerted, and more than half fail their math exam; the angry man gets a gun, goes to a crowded area and starts to randomly fire, killing mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, daughters and sons. Friends, please understand, and help your kids to understand: Your actions matter. Your actions impact others. It is important -- no imperative -- that you completely understand that. You are responsible for your actions. You are the one taking deliberate action. You are the one acting. You are impacting others. You are also the one choosing whether to have a positive or a negative impact. Choose wisely; it is important.
I encourage you to have these conversations with your kids. I encourage you to talk about these difficult subjects. What matters is looking out for one another. Taking care with and for of one another. Checking in, speaking up when things don’t seem right. Talk about guns. Sadly, you should also talk about what they should do when something like this might happen. These are difficult but necessary conversations, and we have to start somewhere. So the conversation with your kids. Absolutely talk to your kids about guns, even if you don't have one in your home. Others will have one. Their friends' parents might have one, and you want your kid to be prepared when they happen across one. Or (probably worse) they will see it if/when their friend brings one they found to school. You absolutely have to talk to them about what they should do when (not if) this happens.
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