“Walking a mile in someone else’s shoes isn’t as much about the walk or the shoes; it’s to be able to think like they think, feel what they feel, and understand why they are who and where they are. Every step is about empathy.” – Toni Sorenson
Another day, another headline that reads, “School Shooting: Multiple Dead and Wounded.” Once again, get ready for all the pro and anti-assault weapon or other political rhetoric to steer us away from the real problem. All the talk will be about banning assault weapons to prevent these disasters. Unnecessary political rhetoric to drive us away from the real, underlying problem. The real problem isn’t assault weapons (I’m not a fan of them in the civilian population). Mental illness is part of the problem, but it is a byproduct of the underlying problem.
The real problem isn’t assault weapons or guns at all. The issue is bullying. After the Parkland incident, I thought it was ironic that these kids were getting up on their soapboxes and preaching about their safety and the need to ban assault weapons. These same kids were likely the same ones that were picking on the shooter throughout the school year. They were probably making fun of the clothes he wore or his shy, anti-social personality. Picking on him each day. Every day they kept poking the caged bear making him angrier and angrier, until well, the rest we know.
Each day these kids are bullied, their hurt turns into anger, their anger turns into hate, their hate turns into rage, their rage turns into homicidal fantasies. We all know what comes next. So, is it really assault weapons that are causing these problems?! These same type of kids are doing the same kind of shootings all around the nation. Is it really a mental health issue? I believe to some degree it is definitely part of the problem. If you were treated in this manner day in and day out you too might develop mental health issues or advance the ones that already exist. I’m not justifying their thoughts or actions; I’m trying to paint a picture of your standard school shooter.
There are exceptions to this description. However, I believe your standard school shooter fits this profile. I believe mental health plays a role in these shootings. However, I also think these kids would not have acted on their pre-existing mental health issues turned homicidal fantasies if they would have been treated better…humanized by their peers. If they had been humanized, there would have been no reason for hurt to evolve into homicidal fantasies or worse. Unfortunately, high school has always been a rough and awkward culture for pubescent teenagers. What I’m proposing may be easier said than done but necessary to effect change.
High school was a rough and awkward time for many of us. Many of YOU can relate to these kids. I was a shy, skinny kid in high school. I was also an athlete, which likely saved me from the abuse that others received. I hated the high school culture. I didn’t really fit into one particular clique. I was able to get along with many groups. I was like a chameleon. The point I’m making is not everyone was an athlete or a chameleon, they were merely shy, awkward, skinny or fat kids with low self-esteem dealing with untold issues of neglect, abuse, and/or mental health problems…in other words, prime targets for middle and high school bullying.
High school is just the culmination of what they are willing to take any longer. This reminds me of the scene in the movie Billy Madison, where Billy calls Danny McGrath, the kid he bullied in high school and apologizes. Danny, now grown up, removes Billy from his “People to Kill” list. Unfortunately, many of these kids are acting on their impulses while in school, unlike the movie scenario. These days bullies are not given the opportunity to apologize and hope to be removed from these “People to Kill” lists. The point is everybody needs to do their part to keep these bullies from preying on the Danny McGrath’s of the world.
If you have children in high school talk to them about these kids. Paint a picture for them; visualize walking a mile in their shoes. YOU might understand what these kids are processing on a daily basis. They don’t need to be bullied and alienated. They need to be encouraged and included. The solution may be quite simple. Show some compassion to these kids. Say hello to them, talk to them…at least make an effort. Acknowledge them as more than just a dumping ground for your own insecurities. Some will be harder to reach than others, but that little bit of empathy may make a world of difference in their already tattered lives…or at the very least keep you off their “People to Kill” list.