Are You Bringing Kindness Into the World?
What I am about to say is going to take some serious self-reflection and is guaranteed to make you squirm. But, in the wake of the school shooting in Florida this past week, I’m just fine with making some people think a little deeper about the role they play within their own families and the welfare of the world at large. All I ask of you, as you read the words I have written that make you feel convicted, defensive and downright angry, is to think about how the families of those 17 victims feel. Yearning for time with their children again. As you, within a few days, will go on with your life, inconvenienced by the responsibility of feeding, disciplining and guiding the very kids you chose to bring into this world.
It may also be productive for my argument to state my beliefs on things like gun control, just so you don’t get the luxury of “tuning out” because I don’t believe exactly what you do. Let’s face it, in current times, we avoid anyone who doesn’t agree 100% with our views. The truth is, we will never make progress in addressing the many issues we collectively face until we embrace constructive dissent and stop the “with me or against me” mentality.
For the record, I support the 2nd amendment, although appreciate it was written by men without any knowledge of the sort of weapons we would someday produce. I grew up in a family of hunters, who respected gun safety and always knew the magnitude and consequences of guns. I do not think anyone needs to own a semi-automatic or automatic assault rifle. If you want to use those sort of weapons, join the military. I also do not agree with the NRA in most circumstances. I scoff at arguments by gun owners claiming they have the right to own ANY weapon they choose in the name of self-defense and honestly, would like to see more legislation on these types of firearms.
However, gun control isn’t the solution to the violence in our nation, which is proven by actual facts and statistics. So there you have it, I sit completely in the middle of this argument and therefore, not really in anyone’s favor. But that’s not an unfamiliar place for me.
All arguments on gun control aside, the logistics of gun control are a pie in the sky dream of the privileged. Get real, you are not going to ban guns (nor do I believe guns should be banned) and you surely aren’t going to remove all guns from circulation. So what do we do?
This brings me to the thoughts I have had circulating in my head since the day I went to see the movie, Wonder with my daughter’s 5th-grade class. I was completely blown away. Not by the movie, which was surely touching and thought-provoking but more so by comments and thoughts shared by those who went to the movie. “What a touching story and a lesson for us all”. A comment by a teacher, indicating how pleased she was to see a “movement of kindness” coming about. Really? Really? A “movement of kindness?” When in the hell did we become so cold and removed as a society that we need a movie about a handicapped child to bring about kindness? Excuse me for being naive, but when did we start relying on movies to help us teach our children to be kind? In this teacher’s defense, she was only speaking to what she witnesses each and every day. A detached, entitled generation who doesn’t give much thought to other people’s feelings, so long as they have their Lunchables, new tennis shoes, and soccer practice, to prove their self-worth at the end of the day. A worth, might I add, that isn’t going to sustain them much past their teen years when they realize the entire world doesn’t revolve around them.
I can tell you this, those people who are the first to claim gun control, the government or “somebody” needs to do something about this violence in our society are the exact same people I personally know who have children who are bossy, rude, indifferent or down-right indecent to others. Are your kids the ones who I am referring to? That’s for you to figure out.
My daughter attends a private school, not of a prestigious stature, but a place we consider in line with our values and priorities in education. Even in this small community, over the past 6 months, she has witnessed girls in her class stand aside another girl at the lunch table, intimidating her until the shunned girl got up and moved to another table. I know this only because she came home disgusted with herself for not standing up and saying something while she witnessed this unfold. We used it as a chance to learn and make tough decisions when it comes to standing up for others. (She returned to school the next day, asked the mistreated girl to sit with her at lunch, and chose to no longer sit with the girls who behaved this way) Frequently, she witnesses a group of boys blatantly tease and intimidate other kids whom they do not view as “cool” like themselves. When I hear these stories, I am very certain the parents of these kids have no idea their children are acting this way. But, why not? The answer is because adults are disconnected.
There’s no longer time for family dinners because it interferes with sports practice. Parents are tired from working all day, spending 2 hours on Facebook or trying to navigate the inconveniences of their highly privileged lives. I say highly privileged because the fact is, if you are reading this article, you have access to the internet and most likely a warm, well-stocked home. That is privileged in comparison to the vast majority of the world! Kids spend endless hours communicating via electronics and very little time partaking in face to face human interaction. We have allowed kids’ schedules to rule our households and we shuffle our own health, marriages, and well-being around them, all the while producing less happy, and more isolated kids.
Now teasing and bullying are not new to children’s behavior by any means. But, parents have to ask themselves where this is coming from. If you are reading this article and thinking, “well yeah, but my kid isn’t going out and killing innocent people!” My response is, no shit. But the more important question for you to ask would be, “is your kid nice, considerate and engaging with other people when you are not around”? Because the kid that has severe problems and may end up killing others is highly motivated by factors such as isolation and teasing from others. Ask yourself, are you engaging, involved, dedicated to promoting the health and well-being of your kids, without taking on their identities? Don’t answer this hastily.
I am not going to claim I have the answer to why certain kids snap and go on rampages like we witnessed this week. These are complex individuals, with complex familial, societal and psychological dynamics we may never fully understand. However, we do know isolation and belittlement are a common theme amongst all these assailants. We also know this is a growing phenomenon and evidence proves we are not a thriving and happy society. Regardless of our unprecedented wealth and technology, we are the most medicated, addicted, in debt, depressed and obese society in human history.
This article is not a victim-blaming piece. But I am going to tell you we have a serious issue with being disconnected as a society and encouraging (although inadvertently) dehumanizing behavior. We need to wake the hell up and the first place this has to happen is within our own homes.
While school shootings like we saw this week in Florida are the extreme example of dehumanization and violence, lesser degrees are happening all around us every day. Start paying closer attention. Do you use dehumanizing language in front of your children because someone doesn’t agree with your politics, your religion or your values? My guess is, you do. You cannot degrade another individual, no matter how extreme your differences, and expect your children will not do the same. Dehumanization is a scary direction for us to head people; it was the driving force behind the Holocaust.
If you haven’t yet seen the movie, I encourage you to watch Wonder and seriously consider how your child acts in certain situations. Engage in conversations with them, teaching the things that matter most (hint: it’s not sports or mathematics). Pour your energy into raising compassionate, empathetic adults.
You cannot legislate human kindness. This is up to you. Stop worrying about being politically correct at your next cocktail party and start standing up for what is right within your own family. Teach kindness, compassion, respect for the human body and a desire for fulfillment in life beyond that which is accessible at the moment.
We all learned, yet again this week, how fleeting life is. Are you going to bury your head in the sand, or are you going to proactively do whatever it takes to make the most of your life and the life of those around you?
If you want further reading, free from political bias and bullshit, here are some useful resources: