Judah will go to kindergarten in the fall.
And I do not want to send him.
I've been thinking about this for a few weeks now, because even before another mass shooting occurred in Florida, I was faced with the very real reality and concern that it could happen.
Late last year I wrote a post about gun control that helped me, not anyone else, wrap my mind around how I felt about this issue.
This time around, I am overwhelmed with the task of processing every other aspect of this argument. So I come here. To sort it out.
Right now my job is to provide brief intervention and therapy for pediatric patients at a doctor's office in town. It is an affluent neighborhood and a homogenous demographic of children. I anticipated, naively, I wouldn't have much work to do. I was used to providing case management and resource services. I was used to assessing for abuse and neglect. I was used to a measure of preservation work that comes along with the oppression of poverty. Even as a trainer for foster parents, I was used to providing alternative methods of discipline and redirection. Unbeknownst to me, my jobs have prepared me for the truth that hit me square in the face this year.
So this week, on Wednesday night, when people started deciding who to blame for yet another tragedy where seventeen children and teachers were mercilessly slaughtered, I had a whole new perspective.
What I'm hearing mostly, regardless of what side it's on, is that it is a single faceted issue.
A one point problem.
Individuals, especially adults, have zeroed in on one issue worthy of campaigning over and have decided that their hot-button topic will be the answer.
I am solution-focused by nature. I am wired in a way that allows me to be comfortable with your emotions, usually to let you sit in them, but I don't want to leave you there. I am working on the practice of attending and mindfulness so that I am more comfortable with the nature of the present. But I know I will never be the kind of person who graciously recognizes that nothing can change.
So in an attempt to bring you my unsolicited opinion on this topic, I started listening.
I hear a few different things.
1) Guns don't kill people, people kill people. You can outlaw guns, but then people will just use bombs, cars, knives.
2) This is not a mental health issue
3) It is a mental health issue
4) Gun laws need to be reformed
5) This is a parenting problem, a generational problem
6) This is not the time to discuss politics / this is not a party problem
7) We took God out of schools and this is the problem
I considered doing a literature review prior to writing this, and maybe I still will. You deserve real information, reputable information. In a world full of memes, peer-reviewed, substantial, ethically sound research is where it's at. We will get there. I will give you that. Let's start with 1.
1. "People kill people". People have killed people since the beginning of time. We have not always had the access and availability of means for which to kill people. But people have always been killing people. People, I agree, will always find a way. My concern with this approach is that it is dismissive and passive. Someone dear to me recently helped me identify my hatred for the term "it is what it is". He guided, patiently, the way only someone who loves you can do. It really is what it is. Buddhist principles that I admire so much even say so. What's happening in the current moment is exactly the only way it can be. We have to learn to accept this. But my disdain for the statement comes more for a resentment and frustration for complacent people. So yes. People kill people. I will, for the rest of my life, try to make it harder for people to kill people.
2. "This is not a mental health issue." This is where peer-reviewed research would come in handy. I have a suspicion, although I've not been able to flesh this out in a respectful place, is that the stigma of mental health issues in America has made us believe that saying something is a related to mental health is an excuse. It's a particularly sensitive subject for those of us who are passionate about race relations and justice for people of color. We have created a society where white men who shoot and kill over a dozen people are"mentally ill" and have the opportunity to stand trial, but Black and Brown men and women are executed by police or fearful civilians without having access to their right of judge and jury. This is not okay. But I am here to tell you, there is a difference between someone saying "this is not a mental health issue" and "someone is not mentally ill". I grew up with the instruction that behavior makes sense in context. We strive to understand someone's experiences, their perspective, their history not in order to excuse them, but to explain. In this context we strive to do so to find patterns so we can break cycles. There are millions of people with diagnoses in America and all over the world. There is no predictive validity to the presence of a mental illness in regard to mass terrorism. Mental illness is a variation of human suffering, however. And to deny that someone is suffering because we don't want to elicit compassion for them is not the way to find the solution.
3. "It is a mental health issue". I am only hearing this argument come from sides who are also saying #1. That it is a mental health issue so gun reform can't fix it. And if you're right, if this is purely an issue of psychopathology, gun reform won't "fix" that. But you know what would? Access to mental health care. Health insurance. Grants and programs that are designed to integrate mental health care into primary health care and school settings so when children, teenagers, young adults, middle-aged and elderly adults have issues there's an additional net to catch them. Ironically, these were components of the Affordable Care Act that, of course need improvement and revision, but the current administration is trying to repeal. If this is a mental health issue, I'm concerned about why an Obama-era legislation was repealed last February regarding mental health screens and background checks for people who were seeking to buy a firearm. I'd ask, for anyone who chooses this particular platform, to just seek consistency. Mental illness, as I said before, is overwhelmingly specific to an individual and is a form of suffering but it does not have to be debilitating. To label anyone with a mental health diagnosis as dangerous or evil would not only be unethical, but false. This perspective perpetuates stigma and paints a picture of millions of people, using only one face.
4. "Gun law needs to be reformed". Over the last three or four years, I have worked intimately with close to one hundred individuals with suicidal ideation. In the scheme of things, this is not a high number. But the protocol for working with someone who is a threat to themselves or to others, once they are in the care of a professional, is to ensure that they do not have the means to do so. Are guns locked and kept safe? Do you have access to copious amounts of medication? Are the sharp knives put away? Do you have a support system? Safety planning is not foolproof and we have learned over the years that creating contracts with patients who want to take their own lives is less than effective. However. While contracting is not protocol, safety planning is. We understand, on an intellectual and systemic level, that people pull triggers on guns. People will do bad things. In the same way that we know people will misuse narcotics, so we created legislation that controls these substances and holds doctors and pharmacies accountable. Do people still misuse substances? Absolutely. But we created checks and balances so that fewer might try. Fewer might have the opportunity. Gun law reformation is not unlike this. For those of you concerned about the black market, I am alarmed because this same logic is not being applied to marijuana which is not inherently harmful. It is not even being applied to opiates, stimulants, or benzos. Black markets are created by our legislation, and I am not denying their existence. But how many people with limited means, social skills, access are able to not only discreetly find, but obtain goods through this system. Cruz, in Parkland, Florida this week, obtained his AR-15 legally. Because of the way Florida gun law is set up. These are the kinds of laws we are talking about. Systemically speaking, the problem is so large, deep, and multi-faceted I am afraid we are freezing in the face of it. There's too much to do! The problem is too big! If we just do one thing, it won't be enough. Whereas, my mentality as someone so accustomed to micro change and impact, is that some is better than none. When there is a problem this complex, a knot so tangled, progress is slow but it has to be made. One law at a time. The mentality of "we cannot fix it all" cannot keep us from fixing what we can. I urge those of us who are in this camp to continue to lobby for reformation of the law. But don't stop there. Being myopic is just not an option here. Be methodical. Address the acute problem so we can move on to the chronic ones.
5. And finally, "it's a parenting issue".
This is actually what I came here to talk about.
Because you're right. Really. You are.
It's not the only issue though. It is not the stand-alone, single cause of gun violence in America.
If you were to sit down with the parents of children or young adults who committed mass murders, empathetically sit and listen and consider the person in environment, I don't think you'd find much compassion or sympathy for the murderers. But you might gain some understanding. Which is not the same thing.
I said it before and I'll say it again. Understanding doesn't mean excusing the behavior. It creates an uncomfortable cognitive dissonance, which most of us are not willing to grapple with.
I read a facebook status this morning from someone I've known for a couple of decades. We were raised in the some town, by similar parents with (at the time) similar beliefs. She attributes this current problem to "this generation".
She described this generation as entitled. As coddled. As requiring "safe zones and participation trophies". She described that they're taught that right and wrong are gray areas and relative. She described them as believing they are god, rather than serving THE God.
Talk about cognitive dissonance for me. I tried to wrap my mind around what children she's talking about. Is there a specific age group this applies to exclusively? Is there that much of a generational gap that someone in their 30's uses these words to describe a teenager?
This is where you lose me on the "parenting is the problem" agenda.
I have been working with families and their children for only five years. That is not a long time. I have only been a parent for that same amount of time. And in twenty years, maybe I'll come back to my thoughts on this topic and just shake my head at my naivety.
But for the last seven months, I have sat across a table from parents who've been caught by our net at the pediatrician's office. They sit there with their children who are anxious, depressed, angry, suicidal, and afraid. They aren't sleeping. They're panicking.
And in almost every single parent, except the three (out of 70) who I can remember as being healthy, caring parents, I see a mirror image of their child.
I could write for days about this. About as a neutral party how I can look at a family and see how something occurred.
But in this affluent, homogenous community who doesn't need my case mangement skills, who doesn't need resources, who doesn't need money... they're presenting to me with so much unhappiness and so much discontentment and so much pain.
I don't see entitlement. But I do see bad parenting.
I do see parents setting an example with their behavior, which maybe they aren't setting with their words.
My point is. Parenting is absolutely the issue.
My point is also that it is our generation and the ones above us who works for the schools right now. For the government. For the FBI who failed to investigate Nikolas Cruz. It's our generation who's raising the next generation. And we are the ones telling the victims of this most recent shooting that "They don't know what they're talking about".
We raised them, folks. We are raising them.
And while you are maybe not raising a psychopath, so you feel comfortable with your performance as a parent... I wonder if you're raising an asshole?
You should have seen my face as I dared to type that.
The likelihood that the way you parent will result in pathological or murderous behavior is pretty low. Statistically speaking, it would seem insignificant. It only takes one person to kill hundreds or thousands, which is why we must address this. But the likelihood that you will raise a selfish, unkind, greedy, self-involved person... those stats are a little higher. That's the risk I want to talk about.
I don't know too many of the kinds of kids this friend described. I tend to pull from a different pool than most do, so my guess is if you are a teacher you see more than most.
But my question is, how honestly different are these children than their parents? How many entitled children have you met who did not have an entitled parent? How many impatient children have you met without an impatient parent? How many unkind children have you met without an unkind parent?
We are raising them.
So my question is. Even though you're probably not raising a psychopath. Are you raising an asshole? Are you raising the men and women who will gain power in our society and only care about themselves? Who won't know how to handle conflict? Who won't know how to ask for what they need?
Ask yourselves these questions, and ask this of the people who will be honest with you who know your children.
Are you raising a kind person?
Are you raising an involved person?
Are you raising a thoughtful person?
A brave person?
Are you raising a child who feels heard?
Do you know what kind of person you are raising? Because it takes time and intentionality to find out.
Discipline is an imperative component of parenting. But as I talk to people in my generation (a millennial), we feel a distinct absence of guidance. We were told what was wrong, for sure. Most of us were spanked, most of us were punished, most of us were held accountable for our "bad" behavior.
But we weren't necessarily taught what the alternative to this was.
Bad behavior has consequences. Don't do the bad thing.
And the buck stopped there.
When was the last time you asked your child his opinion?
When was the last time you took your child to volunteer somewhere?
When was the last time you sincerely asked your teenage child how he was feeling and how you could help?
This is not coddling.
Natural, age-appropriate, and consistent consequences are necessary. Absolutely necessary.
But that's not all parenting is.
I've seen a few people flesh this comment out, and I'm very proud.
Usually, the statements will end with "and you're not their friend" and this always pierces my heart. Because I know exactly what you mean. But what I see, in practice, is that we forget we are raising humans whose friendship we are going to crave and covet if we do it right. "Not being their friend" is really a statement about not trying to just make our kids happy all the time, which to be honest, I don't want that in a friendship anyway. But it also doesn't mean you have to be a prison warden, it doesn't mean you can't like your child.
I have been asking people I know, both who are good parents and good clinicians, what the traits are of good parents.
They can't tell me.
I think we just know you when we see you.
But I would encourage you, if this is your platform, to recognize what a longitudinal issue this is.
We were raised a certain way and this is impacting how we are raising our children.
Change happens incrementally. And it cannot be mandated or regulated. Which is why this cannot be the only solution to the safety of our children in public places.
And with this culture we've created, we've created so much judgment. So much superiority and blame-laying and shaming.
It would be beneficial for all of us if we considered the concept that someone is doing the best they can. And if it bothers us so much that we don't believe this is true, then ask how we can help.
And then go home and sit down to dinner and ask your kid how he's feeling.
Ask how he's feeling and then ask him his opinion on something. Ask him what ideas he has.
6. and 7. "This is not the time for politics/God belongs back in schools". I only want to touch on. Because I am not emotionally intelligent to address these issues without being derogatory.
Wednesday was Ash Wednesday.
Most of the pictures from Douglas Highschool, teenagers had ashes on their foreheads.
School is not the place children learn their religion. School is not the place children learn their morals.
A public school should be neutral territory where people of all walks of life can be free to express their faith and religion in any way as long as it is not harmful emotionally or physically to someone else.
This was depicted beautifully by a pastoral services student in one of my classes. She is devoutly Christian. And she gently mentioned in class one day that she has prayer rugs and multiple different religious texts available for her patients because "just because what I believe and what you believe is different doesn't mean I can't minister to you." Let that sink in.
Ten Commandments from the Christian's Bible do not belong on the walls of schools unless every religion's religious texts are also represented. Students should be allowed to pray, to organize faith-based functions, but teachers and administrators should not be making these things mandatory. If you are a coach on a sports team and your students ask to pray, pray. It just shouldn't be your idea. And if it is your students' idea and they have classmates who don't want to participate, there's an opportunity to teach about inclusion and acceptance. This is going to look different all over the country.
But to impose your beliefs about a God not everyone believes in is harmful.
To suggest that the God you believe in allowed this to happen because you took religious rites out of schools makes me terrified of the God you believe in.
The root word of politics is "polis" in Greek that means city or also "polities" which means citizen. The dictionary defines it is "the activities, actions, and policies that are used to gain and hold power in a government or to influence government."
Politics, by definition, is a power struggle.
For those suffering, there are multiple perspectives.
But engaging in political action is the only way anything has ever changed.
Because we have created a culture, which has a government (the political direction and control exercised over the actions of the members of communities, via Merriam Webster dictionary online) we have created an existence or a life that is intertwined with politics.
Every last thing you do in America is related to politics.
If you identify as a non-political person, it means that you either have not educated yourself on how politics affect you, or you are so privileged that politics tend to err in your favor.
In this day and age, "being political" is one of the greatest insults someone may try and hurl at you.
Politicizing emotion or tragedy or using terror as a platform for political change is either viewed as necessary or abhorrent. There's almost no middle ground.
But right now... there are too many people who are directly in danger or at risk because of a power struggle.
You can choose to remain uninvolved. All this tells me is that you are either so deep in the throes of oppression that you don't have the energy left and that's why I have my job and use my voice. Or you are so benefited by the systemic oppression that addressing it threatens you. This is also why I use my voice.
I will not condemn you for not speaking up. And I don't assume that if you don't speak up on social media, that you aren't involved elsewhere. Plenty of people are only politically active on social media and that's not the kind of action we need. I mean, if you are not speaking up in your families, at your workplace, at the voting booths... I will not condemn you.
I just ask you to use different language.
You are political. Everything about your identity as an American is politicized.
It's just time to call it what it is. That it is not your priority.
That political evolution might impact you in a way you deem negative. So things are fine just the way they are.
We just have to tell the truth about that.