Originally posted Feb. 15, 2008
It happened again. Another campus shooting. This
time, in our own backyard.
The moment I heard the news last night I tried to push it
away. I didn't want to let it sink in. I looked away,
and even scrambled to turn the channel. But it was on the
next channel, too. And the next and the next, so I
listened. As of this writing five students at Northern
Illinois University in Dekalb have died. They were killed by
a lone gunman, a former graduate student who suddenly appeared in
their classroom wearing black clothing and a blank
expression. Without a word, he shot up the lecture hall and
then took himself out.
No shooting is 'just another' shooting anymore. Even if we
think that we're fortunate enough to live in a 'safe neighborhood,'
the fact is that these days, just going to school or even
to the mall can be fatal.
This morning before school I turned on the radio, as I often
do. Sometimes we dance or sing as we rub the sleep out of our
eyes and move through our early morning routines. We
also brushed our teeth, pulled on socks and shoes, packed lunches
and hunted for mittens and library books. The usual.
It's comforting and familiar. Today I learned that I dropped
the ball by failing to wash the right pants for Noah to wear to
school. The sour note passed and I made a mental note to
teach him how to do his own laundry. I was a tad peeved,
but managed a moment of gratitude that our frustrations are so
small. We're blessed. But then a radio announcer burst
our illusory bubble:
"Six are dead. The motive for the shooting is not known at
this time," she soberly reported. I hustled to hit the tuner
button but was too late.
"Is that near here?" Noah asked. "Do you think
Brittany is scared?" he added, wondering about our babysitter, a
college student. Translation: Am I safe? And I'd
be scared if I was Brittany, which
means This kind of freaks me out, too.
What can we say to our kids when they hear about this
stuff? Sure, we can limit their diet of bad news and reassure
them with Happy Meals, consistent routines, warm snuggles and fairy
tales, but what else can we say? What can we
do to prevent this from happening to them? Can
We may never really know the full impact of our efforts, but
that doesn't mean we shouldn't make one.
For starters, be kind to each other, people. Know that
everything you do and say to others has impact. When we tear
each other down we become part of the problem that gives rise to
random acts of violence like this. Surprised? I believe
that we are all responsible for creating this problem and that we
can all be part of the solution. It may seem too simple and
saccharine, but it's true.
Empower your kids with this awareness: Tell them, over and
over again, that they really do have an impact on those around
them. When they choose kindness over ridicule, when they heed
that little voice that tells them to avoid the temptation of piling
on when the other kids are choosing to bully another, and when
they bravely choose to stand firm and speak up on behalf of someone
who doesn't have a voice, they are having a hand in the
solution. We can feel helpless and impotent at times like
these or we can look at our own little corners of the world and
recognize how powerful we are to change it. Start small, with
your own little ones.
Refuse to be part of the problem and teach your children well,
and things can get better for all of us.
Show your kids how much they count. It's simple. Use
the mobile over the baby's bed or drop a pebble into a puddle to
illustrate your point. When you tug on one of the fish on the
mobile, the others are affected. Show them that the others
react. And when you drop that pebble, ripples of water, of
energy, move out to places you didn't directly touch. The
same is true of our thoughts, feelings and actions. We are
not helpless to change things. Even small children can 'get
Just think: how many times have you heard about a
gunman being slighted by someone or suffering some
disappointment, who in his suicide note points to that incident as
having been the 'last straw?' Whether or not he has a
documented mental illness or predisposition for one, the cumulative
effect of these disappointments and slights proves to be more than
he can bear. Taken one at a time, these slights might not
seem so insurmountable. But left unchecked, they can
be. Remember the 1993 movie Falling Down? The
film, starring Michael Douglas and Robert Duvall, is a
fictionalized portrayal of the random acts of violence perpetrated
by one man fed-up with alienation and disappointment.
We may never know the specifics of the NIU gunman's
motives. We may never fully comprehend what caused a
beautiful, innocent baby boy to grow up and grow rageful enough to
perpetrate this Valentine's Day massacre on one of the colleges our
kids might someday or may already attend.
But what if you could know - that a smirk at a
fashion-challenged passerby, a derisive comment to a telemarketer
who may not have any other work prospects, or that a missed
opportunity to offer a kind word to a lonely neighbor - would have
that 'last straw' effect that leads to tragedy? What if a
person's 'rage meter' was as plain as day, like a thermometer stuck
on his forehead? What if you could tell just how close he was
to blowing his cork? Would you still do it? Would you
still be lazy and not think before you speak, act or fail to
act? Would you want your kids to see you harming
another? Do you?
I'll risk a cliché and invoke a 'random acts of kindness'
challenge to you and your kids. Call it whatever you
want. You don't have to spend a dime or even be a
goody-two-shoes and collect canned goods and gently-worn
clothing. You just have to be nice. It matters.
Jennifer DuBose, M.S., C.A.S., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Batavia.
See more of Jennifer's stories here.
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