Are There Lessons to Be Learned?

Alison Grodzinski Blog Posts 14 Comments

By: Pete Hutchison, YES Program Manager and Flint resident

Sitting in my office in Flint, Michigan reflecting on the tragedy that has taken place in Connecticut,  I’m not sure what to make of it.  After spending 39 years trying to prevent violence generally and youth violence specifically, it seems that there should be something profound to say.  Yet as I sit here grieving for parents that will have an empty place at the table tonight, I’m not sure what the lessons are.

Certainly, it opens the door to a conversation about the accessibility to mental health services for our young.  But this young man does not represent the entire population of young people in our country who suffer from the pain of mental illness.  Having been honored to work with students suffering from a wide spectrum of mental health issues in a self contained classroom, I can personally attest to all the wonderful gifts that those children possess and the fact that we need to empower them just as we need to empower all young people, providing them with the opportunity to reach their full potential regardless of what it is.  These youngsters do, however, require a specialized type of care for that empowerment to become a reality and we as a society need to guarantee that they get it.

The events of last week also point out the need for a frank conversation about the availability of firearms in this country.   It appears that we have come to look upon the use of firearms as a legitimate means of conflict resolution, losing sight of the consequences of this strategy.  It is apparent through our media, movies, video games, even our everyday vocabulary that we have granted firearms a favored position in our society, a quick and easy means to solve any problem.  Unfortunately, with their relatively easy accessibility this is a solution that is too easy to invoke.  The guns used in Connecticut, and too often on our city streets, are guns bought by goodhearted, law-abiding individuals that through a variety of means fall into the hands of people who use them for inappropriate purposes.  I think it is time to look at the gun policies  in this country.

I can’t help but be struck by the fact that we don’t seem to understand non-adversarial ways of solving conflict.  Our methods of mediation appear to be lacking when it comes to reaching agreements in which both sides gain something.  One doesn’t have to look far as we approach the cliff in our legislature, or the campaigns waged in our recent elections.  How often do we tell our children “attack the problem not the person,” but when they watch their role models they see something entirely different being played out.  This occurs daily on our streets, our schools, our homes, and our places of employment.  The art of peaceful discussion is forgotten and we seem to be quick to follow the path of finality, where no one wins and a whole society loses.  Maybe it’s time to add peaceful conflict resolution to the list of 21st Century skills that we feel our children must know.

Sometimes it seems as though we are becoming more and more of an isolationist society.  One in which our reality is defined by reality television; our relationships are confined to Facebook and other social networking sites.  As we walk down the streets and see people, do we acknowledge their humanity or are they simply obstacles to our destination?  Is that car in front of us traveling the speed limit a person trying to obey the law or is it a stupid driver that needs to be in another lane?  I’m afraid that as we spend more time locked up in our houses, offices and cars, we are losing site of the fact that the world is populated with people that think, feel and love just like we do.  It has often been noted that we have sanitized war and that makes it easier to kill, I wonder if we haven’t sanitized life as well and if it’s not time to acknowledge the humanity of all humankind regardless of who they are or what they look like.

What transpired in Connecticut was a horrific tragedy. What happens on a smaller scale in cities across the U.S., and here in Flint  all too often, is also tragic but does not always make national headlines.  What is the solution, what can be done, what can one person do to help solve such a pervasive, deep rooted problem?  It seems to me as I sit here and mourn the deaths of 26 of our nation’s heroes, there is a lesson to be learned.  We can’t give up.  We must continue to teach our children the ways of peace, love and compassion, not just for their friends but for everyone and the most effective means of teaching these lessons is to be the best role models we can be.  The programs of the Michigan Youth Violence Prevention Center all work from a foundation of empowering young people to be positively engaged in creating a better place in which to live.   To change the world begins with one simple act of kindness.  It’s a step that we can all take young and old, today as we remember those that died in Sandy Hook Elementary, those that died on the streets of Flint, those whose lives have been shattered needlessly throughout our country and the world.  It is not insurmountable, it is a lesson that has echoed through the ages and now must be in our  hearts and actions as we move into the coming years.

Comments 14

  1. Hi Pete, What a sane and compassionate article this is. Fiona now works within the Canadian Mental Health system and I shall be forwarding this to her. We all agree with your words and, reading between the lines, can understand, as we feel here in Canada, your frustration with the lack of emphasis on the support, treatment and public attitudes towards those suffering from mental health illnesses. As you know my father, your Uncle Arthur, sufferd from Clinical Depression for nearly all of his adult life so my mother and I know, close up, how difficult it is to cope within a family without specialised help and support. Having been a single mum myself for years I also know that to properly care for any child with special needs on one’s own is hard. I wonder about the mother of the ‘shooter’ in this latest and most tragic incident. Unfortunately it is too late for both mother and son and for 26 children and adults who were the victims of this senseless and horrible tragedy. Thank you for your wise and hopeful words…I only hope they are heeded! Maggie.

  2. I don’t understand why it’s so hard for some parents to understand that children learn more from modeling than words alone. I work at a DV shelter and the women here sometimes get into heated disputes; their reasons being that they want to look tough and to show their children to not get bullied by anyone. I had a chance to pull a couple of them aside and explain to them what they’re really doing. Standing up for yourself doesn’t mean you got to be the louder one or for lack of better words: the bigger bitch. It’s almost hysterical how some people don’t see the irony, like, “Oh, mom says one thing but she does another, it must be okay for me to do it, too”–don’t they see that?

    I don’t think peaceful discussions are necessarily forgotten, it’s just maybe in certain situation they seem impractical. I like to think I’m a pretty patient person and I try to resolve things calmly and logically, but sometimes it simply does not get through to the person. It’s only when I kind of lose that patience and snap that the other person actually hears me. I think peaceful resolutions is a great goal to strive for, but it is going to take a long time to rewire what is almost innate to us.

    I think violence is not only more acceptable because it is portrayed to us almost on a daily basis that it has become the norm but also because it is presented in a way which is humorous. I don’t know if people are just sick or maybe humor is a way to cope with the confusion of violence.

    Usually I try to see both sides of the picture before coming to a firm conclusion, but with this, there is no other side to the story. There is no justification for these deaths…not even going to try. With war, there is another side, maybe not one we all agree with, but I can kind of see where the opposition is coming from. With homicides, murders, whatever, fine, I can kind of see where the bad guy is coming from (i.e. need money, revenge, etc.) It’s still not right to any extent to kill someone, but I can see the reasoning, no matter how poor. This case? No. There’s nothing on the opposition…

    I sat here dumbfounded not sure how to respond but I wanted to say something. Thank you for what you do and your undying hope and belief in the youth and our future. You are setting a great model for people to follow.

  3. The tragedy in Connecticut was very heart breaking and it struck home because of the fact that I work at an elementary school with kids. I would like the availability of firearms to be changed in order for everyone, not just the children, to be safe. Yet in reality I do not think that making fire arms less available will change the problem. If not with guns then people who want to hurt others will find another weapon to do it. Also, I partially hold the mother responsible for this incident just because she had the firearms available to her sons at home and she knew one of her sons suffered from a mental illness. The media as well plays a big role in firearm violence. Like it was mentioned in this article, they make it seem okay to kill other people as a conflict solving solution. Maybe the place to start some reform is in the media and not in gun control.

  4. It is sad to see and hear of such a tragedy that has taken place in Connecticut. The lives of the people in Connecticut will never be the same and there are many hearts broken over the deaths of the lives that were taken too soon.
    Now in days, it does seem as if fighting our battles with firearms is the legitimate way of resolving conflict. We should not fight fire with fire. Instead we need to talk about the problems that we have with one another. People who are dealing with their inner demons should not feel as though they cannot get help; they should be encouraged and feel that they can fight off their demons by talking, not shooting.
    I totally agree on the saying “attack the problem not the person.” Parents may tell their children this, but there are elements the children may go through on a daily basis that contradict this. They may see things in a completely different way, or have factors that change their perspective on things. One for example, is the media. The media is a very big factor that shows all the violence kids are learning today. Along with the media, there are the conflicts that happen at schools, homes, and places of employment.
    We take life for granted. We are not acknowledging the little things anymore. We are too cooped up with our computers, cellular devices, kindles, iPads, etc. We are tending to rely too much on technology and it seems as if we cannot think for ourselves anymore. The social networking sites and reality television shows are having such an impact in today’s society. I think that we even take others and our loved ones for granted. We should not do this because we are not granted tomorrow.
    Something that we should learn is that we cannot and should not give up. We must continue to teach our children the ways of peace, love and compassion. We need to teach or continue teaching our children these lessons not just for their friends but for everyone. The most effective means of teaching these lessons is to be the best role models we can be. Many children learn through observations and they tend to mimic what they see; so if they see violence there may be a possibility that they will commit violent acts themselves because that is what they have seen and are accustomed to. Not saying that every child who sees violent acts will commit them themselves, but there is a possibility. Also, whatever happened to having manners? Just because times are changing and technology is a huge aspect in today’s time, it does not mean that we need to throw away the act of kindness.

  5. Children are our future. They are innocent, fragile, and they depend on us for protection. This tragedy left many broken hearts, empty spaces, irreparable damage, and pain. There is a need for kindness in this world, just like the author points out. We are all human beings, but sometimes things like hatred, racism, anger, and revenge cause us to put this aside. The use of media and techonology is not a bad thing, but perhaps we need to find better ways of using these outlets. Facebook and Myspace have been used to bully other people. Youtube has many videos promoting violence. There are websites dedicated to racist groups. Perhaps, these outlets can create a positive change by promoting kindness, love, and unity instead.

  6. Its heartbreaking to hear that kids cant even be safe in our schools any more. In order to try and prevent this from happening we have to make a change. I know its our right to bear arms but we have to make a change and get a tighter hold on gun control. Oner person cant stop the problem the nation need to realize if they want change then they themselves have to change as well. The children are the future and we have to show them we need to work together in order to leave them something worth giving. If you want to your children to do good we as adults have to model that behavior as well.

  7. I, too, believe that the first step in fixing this problem should not be focused on the availability of guns. Yes, there have been a lot of recent problems involving guns, but I believe it starts with figuring out how to provide support to the young people of today. If younger generations lack the knowledge and understanding that we are the only ones capable of sharing, then we have failed them as mentors, leaders, and teachers. The events that took place in Connecticut are truly a tragedy, and true, without the young man’s access to firearms, it may not have happened, but I think people have been to quick to blame the gun, and not the act. Sadly, this is due, in large part, to the voice displayed by the media regarding the situation. I think that the biggest thing that we can do, as a society, is not to eliminate the physical threat of a firearm, but instead to be present in the lives of young people, act as their guardians, their mentors, and their counselors, so that they may grow up with a clear vision and understanding of the world around them.

  8. The Connecticut tragedy that occured has brought many questions to the table, and of them is asking if the older generations in this world have done enough teaching to the younger generations. I know of many people from older generations, who do a wonderful job at directing the younger generations in the right direction, as well as informing them with endless amounts of knowledge. Older generations can help to act as the #1 fan and mentor of these younger generations, which would allow them to grow up with a better understanding of the world as a whole. As a parent, you must be able to steer your children in the right direction, while raising them. Parents need to teach them the responsiblities as they grow old, and allow them to fail without falling to far. It is easy to tell when the younger generation has had a good mentor from a person of an older generation. This country could grow, as a whole, if we did more teaching, and less fighting.

  9. Another person commented that it’s a shame that our kids can’t even be safe in schools anymore, but realistically, no one is safe anywhere, ever. As cynical as that may sound, it’s the truth. We can only do our best to reduce violence, but it can never be prevented 100 percent. The goals of the Michigan Youth Violence Prevention Center focus on empowering juveniles, which in return reduce the likelihood of them participating in crimes. We need more programs that focus on the source of the problem, rather than the problem itself. By raising youth to remain out of trouble, we are raising them to a brighter future. We would save more money investing into youth empowering programs than what it would cost us to incarcerate repeated offenders. In addition to saving taxpayers money and keeping crime low, most importantly it would allow youth to grow up living meaningful lives.

  10. I think the problem with the country is mental health as this post started with and not guns. Mental health not only for those with illnesses that need it, but mental health as in teaching people from a young age to have the right frame mind about guns. Yes guns are dangerous, but guns themselves are mere tools that can be used in any number of ways. The problem arises when people become ignorant of what guns are intended for. You rarely here stories of kids who grew up in rural areas, learning to hunt as soon as they are old enough to fully grasp it go to schools at shoot others. The majority of gun owners in America, not only stay away from crime, but know gun safety better than some law enforcement officials, who have been pictured with their fingers in the trigger or having equipment backwards, both of which go against gun safety procedures. Instead of teaching people to be responsible and teach the value of human life, we want to punish them and tell them no, which works so well with drugs and DUIs. If a person kills someone while driving drunk, there is no talk of banning the car which is a weapon, when someone gets stabbed no one wants to ban knives which is a weapon, or bats, clubs, fists, etc. While guns are swifter killers, banning guns will not keep violence away. Violence is a product of mankind, not the guns themselves. Instead of keeping guns out of the hands of non criminal Americans, we need to go back to teaching responisbility for ones actions and not blaming inanimate objects for the violence mankind produces. Instead of spending so much energy on controlling guns owned almost always by law abiding citizens, we should spend the energy on getting back to mental health. If Adam Lanza is ill, he could have been helped and that would have prevented the act he committed more than him not having a gun. He could have found another weapon had he not had a gun, but had he had treatment beforehand, he may have not committed a crime to begin with.

  11. It was definitely devastating when that young man in Conneticut went on a crazy shooting spree. It was so very sad to see the parents so helpless knowing that they were never going to see their young child again. In these cases, we ask why this happens? There are many people out there working very hard to educate and inform the youth to prevent crime. Unfortunately,the mental illness youth is a totally different target then a normal young child. We need to really have a focal point on the mental illness. The unfortunate thing is we cant tend to ever childs needs.

  12. This was such a horrible tragedy were innocent children lost their lives at the hands of a young adult who didn’t received the adequate treatment for his mental illness. I sometimes feel that our society has really lost its humanity. We are so concentrated on our busy lives that we become selfish by only focusing on our own selves. I think we need to reflect into our inner souls and remember that we posses important qualities such as compassion and empathy. We should not stigmatize the mental ill but instead help them obtain treatments that will save not only their lives, but the lives of other innocents so tragedies like this one stop breaking our hearts. We also need to teach and reinforce to our children the fact that guns and violence are no way to solve problems but rather make matters worst.

  13. Children learn to behave from their peers and others not by just words. Parents should understand that by interacting with their kid, they would learn how to behave. i have learned that a strong family with a good sense of what is right from wrong helps to learn with their own decision. Parents should take some time to educate their children right from wrong. i agree legislature should pay attention of those people who have or had difficulty with having a decent style of living, i believe there is not a reason why helping does people who commit horrible crime and claim mental illness.

  14. This article is spot on with the feelings. Although angry youth has always been a societal problem, mass shootings are a relatively new thing for the age group. Columbine, Newtown, and where else before it stops? I think that we need to have more School Resource Officers that re trained to deal with kids from the responsible side. Instead of shipping millions of dollars of foreign aid off to countries that repeatedly threaten us, our government needs to focus on our public schools, which raise most of our children. I believe that high schools should add mandatory conflict resolution classes. If a health class is made mandatory, I think that conflict resolution, especially in troubled areas is also extremely important. Also more funding should be allotted for school psychologists to pick up warning signs. Unfortunately, Adam Lanza, the Newtown shooter, could have been picked up early on and either counseled or given special treatment to avoid his actions. His mother should have been more aware, and not take her disturbed and mentally defunct son shooting, let alone leaving guns out and available to him. I feel as though a higher level of engagement between schools and parents would also be supremely important, as most parents are biased to thinking their children are not flawed or prone, and quite frankly do not even know what to look for in terms of warning signs. Kids need to be socialized and not so isolationist, which can explain a lot of the violence that transpires in that age group. Overall, more responsibly placed control and influence needs to be happening between parents, the school, qualified professionals, and children.