I vividly remember the aftermath of Columbine.
How could two teenagers follow through on something so horrendous? Since that day we have witnessed similar events on college campuses, movie theaters, elementary schools and on Oct. 21 in a Nevada Middle School.
Often these shooters are described as “quiet,” or the “nice kids.” If this is true we want to know: “How could this happen?” I believe our students are like us and are struggling inside to know why? Could they be the next victim? In their heart of hearts some of our students are even wondering if they are capable of something like this?
The question is, “What is at the heart of these wrongdoers?” Yes, there are statistics that support abuse, fatherlessness, bullying, mental illness and bad home lives as part of the cause. Still there are elements that go even deeper.
Here are the trends I see in each act of violence:
Hope Was Lost:
There comes a point when things seem “so bad” that you have no hope for tomorrow. It seems like the cycle of hurt will never end, and there is no way out. When we come to believe the pain is interminable then the darkness consumes us. This is the point at which it is easy to get “stuck in our heads.” The voices that tell us it can’t and won’t get better begin to scream louder and louder. This is also the point at which plans of an extreme “way out” begin to be made.
When you “can’t fix something” the logical response is that it has to be your fault. Bullying, physical, verbal, and sexual abuse as well as other factors seem to be something we SHOULD be able to stop. Mental illness seems taboo. You can’t just “get happy” when suffering from depression. HOWEVER, we believe if we were just “more” or “less” we would be able to end the horror. If we were stronger, more popular or less of nerd or crazy then it would go away. Maybe we feel like we messed up so terribly or are such an awful person we can’t “get out.” The feeling of helplessness leads to a deep shame. Shame is a hideous monster that breeds lies.
There is a reason why these shooters are so often described as “quiet.” Something causes them to pull away from everyone. Maybe they have come to believe they are invisible. Perhaps, they don’t want others too close, because then you might find out their secret? What if they went for help, and weren’t heard? Worse what if others threw up their hands and said there was nothing that could be done? At some point they pulled themselves to the side lines of society for self-preservation.
Our role as youth workers is to pay attention.
We have to remember a student’s perception IS THEIR TRUTH. Different students will be deeply wounded by a myriad of factors.
Maybe we couldn’t stop these horrors. However, I keep wondering if we will start truly listening to the heart of our youth, can we stop this from happening in the future? Not every situation will end in a school shooting. Some stories will end with runaways, or joining a gang, addiction or ending up in the sex slave industry. And no we can’t catch every one.
We need to let them know someone is here for them. We might not have all the answers, but we can get them help if they need it. We need to let them know there is a God big enough to hold them when the world can’t. They do have an “out,” and it doesn’t have to end this way.
What do you see?