This month's article is not about my journey, in light of what has happened once again in a school, this time in Colorado, writing about my journey seems awfully narcissistic. Yet as I write about the shooting in Denver, I see that this is part of my journey, it should be a part of All our journeys to see that a tragedy like this never happens again.
As I write this, there are approximately 31 million teenagers in the United States:
- Minus the 15 kids killed in Littleton Colorado.
- Minus the two killed on Feb. 2, 1996 at Frontier Middle School in Moses Lake, Washington.
- Minus the student killed Feb. 19, 1997 at Bethel High School in Bethel, Alaska.
- Minus the two killed on Oct. 1, 1997 at Pearl High School in Pearl Mississippi.
- Minus the three students killed while praying on Dec. 1, 1997 at Heath High School in West
- Paducah, Kentucky.
- Minus the four students killed on March 24, 1998 at Westside Middle School in Jonesboro,
- Minus the student killed on May 19, 1998 at Lincoln County High School in Fayetteville,
- Minus the countless teenagers killed on the streets of Detroit, and the nation, at least 12 every day that we do not hear about. Or if we do hear about it, we soon forget.
Each time this occurs the media shakes it's collective head and asks why this keeps happening. Then they parade their "experts" in front of us, each one pontificates on the "evil" that they believe is behind it. Each seems to demonize some aspect of society as being the cause of the tragedy…Violence in the media, computer games, guns in the homes, absent parents, Marilyn Manson's music, gangs, drugs, Adolph Hitler. Others offer advice about what needs to be done to make school safe, what the "warning signs" are that some kid is about to blow, or how we should consider arming our teachers.
The Littleton Tragedy has touched me like nothing has in a long time. I've tried to get a handle on just why this shooting has so overwhelmed my thoughts and feelings. Perhaps it is the magnitude of the violence, perhaps because it happened almost live on TV. Or perhaps because I was much like Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold when I was their age.
Fifteen years ago, I too was an introverted outcast, fascinated with computers, Hitler, and "Soldier of Fortune Magazine". I too was scorned by the "Jocks" and popular kids. I hung out with a group of "geeks" and "nerds" much like the "Trench Coat Mafia", only we called ourselves the VARR (Various Assorted Riff-Raff). Instead of Computer games like "Doom", we played "Dungeons and Dragons". Our bomb making information came from "The Anarchist Cookbook", checked out from the local library and xeroxed. The Internet was still an idea. The movie "Carrie" was our inspiration, where the outcast wrought supernatural revenge on the popular kids who wronged her. We probably even plotted revenge too, but more along the comedic lines of the movie "Revenge of the Nerds".
Yet, we never killed anyone. We never brought guns to school. We never made the pipebombs we read about. And our fascination with Hitler was with the jackbooted trappings of Fascism and the power we thought it represented , not with hatred for any race.
I still can't figure out why I didn't become like Harris and Klebold, why I didn't turn my pain and loneliness into the kind of hate that erupted into Littleton. Maybe because there were no guns easily available in my home. Maybe because my mother didn't work and was home when I got back from school, and therefore I had an adult who would listen to me. Maybe the culture of Violence wasn't as pervasive as it is now. Maybe because I just turned my pain inward into depression and thoughts of suicide…I don't know.
My biggest fear is that, in the wake of this tragedy, we're going to start "demonizing" other people's kids while we try to protect our own. That instead of reaching out to the outcasts and outsiders we're going to throw them away. The newspapers and television have already been full of "warning signs" to watch out for, and the schools have taken a zero tolerance stance against any of the threats that have followed in the wake of the shootings. Yet I haven't heard anything about reaching out to kids who are aching to be heard, aching to be loved.
After the Oklahoma Bombing, Guy Lynch said, "Empowered people don't need guns and bombs in order to be heard."… I think we need to start listening, and start empowering.
I don't believe in Satan or Evil, but someone or something listened to Harris and Klebold. Someone or something took their pain, their angst, and their powerlessness, and transformed it into hate and rage. That same kind of rage is in our post offices, our homes, and our roads…..
I don't know what the answer is, I pray that someone has it. But I believe that part of it has to do with sitting in a circle and listening to each other. To listen without condemnation is one of the most powerful tools to empowerment there is. It is one of the cornerstones to AA, the "Men's Movement", and when added to the skills of mirroring and validation, it is the glue that holds many relationships together.
I've talked in the past about the need for mentorship programs, and the need for Rites of Passage Rituals in our society, I think I'm wrong. Both those things are wonderful, and have their place, but they are too complex to plan, and too narrow in their scope. Even if every adult mentored a single child there would still be too many children left out of the equation. I think we need to explore how we can take the notion of sitting in a circle with young people and give them the chance to hear and be heard. To take what we've gotten, from Men's groups, and from AA, and apply it to connecting with these kids on a deep, heart level.
We also need to bring with us the skills that we've learned in anger and grief groups to these circles, to facilitate safe containers for these emotions. We need to model conflict resolution, and reconciliation. We need to teach them to affirm themselves and each other, as they stretch and grow, much like we do in our Dale Carnegie groups. And, I believe we need to bring with us such truths as abundance, joy and the spirit of cooperation.
I believe that we all have put a great deal of work and effort in our personal healing, our recovery, and our connection with what is divine in all of us. On this sacred journey we've learned quite a lot of wonderful skills and powerful truths that have kept us from having our own private "Littletons". I believe that we must get beyond the rhetoric about the causes of tragedies like this, and with God's help start applying what we have learned to saving our children….
Ps. I am exploring just how to take the principles and gifts that I've received through recovery and Men's Work into our schools. Maybe just to sit in circle with these kids. If Littleton has moved you to action too, please contact me at Mcopado@netscape.net. Perhaps we can come up with a solution.