"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away." – Henry David Thoreau, July 12, 1817, to May 6, 1862

I’m writing this about 48 hours after the shooting of 26 young children and adults in Newtown, Conn. It is raw; the tragedy and the fact that most of us can’t make sense of it is nothing less then numbing.

Seeing comments on facebook of “hugging your children closely” and conversations and petitions stoking up the gun control debate are outcomes, but the real root of our societal problem is what is more concerning.

Since I have the bully pulpit, my thoughts will be shared. I ask that we take this discussion further online; go to this column on our VillageSoup website and share your thoughts and ideas there. Perhaps, together, we can make some sense of this and take steps to make our community a more loving and accepting place.

An event like this brings us together as one; we so identify with the feelings of grief and horror over the killing of innocents. I am all for coming together, love hugging the children (and everyone else for that matter) and agree fully that gun control might have prevented this from being a straight-out massacre. However, instead perhaps we can explore the root of the problem to see how we can, together, change the world.

The problem starts from a fundamental flaw in the way our society works. We don’t reach out to those who are different, we shun them. If they aren’t shunned, they are bullied. If they aren’t bullied, they are made fun of. At best, they are ignored. None of these are acceptable if we are to prevent the culture that allows for Columbine and similar tragedies to occur, time and time again.

I am also not naïve; I’m sure the shooter in this case had mental issues and that any amount of nurturing from society might not have prevented this outburst. My point is; it is our duty to society to do WHAT WE CAN to prevent this.

So what am I talking about? I remember when my kids were in preschool; a couple of the kids were judged to be “weird” and that judgment would follow them out to the school yard and they were quickly “marked." Other parents did not embrace them; in fact there was a quiet petition to get them out of the school. Parents would not invite this child over for playtime and thus a young life is snuffed and stifled from an early age. I maintain it is our duty to change this. It is our responsibility to make our little world a little more inclusive and to reach out, rather than shun, when we see this around us. It is not somebody else's job; it is our job to step up and step in.

There is an innate desire to do the right thing that gets replaced by learned behavior. That’s too bad. When one of my sons was about 10, he and his mates reached out to the child in their class that was unique and embraced him. They didn’t know any better and I thought “how sweet" when I heard that they all pooled their ice cream money to buy their friend a new hacky sack after his new one was mistakenly kicked up on the RES school roof and their young friend was upset and crying. The innocents had this innate love and nurturing that somehow over the years gets lost and buried because they follow the adults’ lead, which is to turn away or chastise the odd ball, rather than to honor them and love them for who they are and for what they add.

In a perfect world, we should all fit in and if we don’t, the “others” should come to our side and embrace us. My friend Dottie Foote created the Diversity Coalition about a decade ago. I’m not sure of its official mission but what I saw was a way for those on the fringe of popularity to be 'regular.' You shouldn’t have to play sports or be attractive as the criteria to fit in.

Dottie helped create a place where diversity was not only honored but understood. Most importantly she created a culture that each of these students mattered and had a purpose. We shouldn’t need to create a group for this or even a name for it. We need it to be part of the fabric of our society if we are to prevent and curtail the tragedy that happens when we do not all take responsibility for what happened. It is so much easier to blame the person, the society or guns than to see what we can do to make a difference.

Over the years, positive actions continue to pop up. They say that the pure definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. In order to change things, we must be the change and we must support those who are trying to make a difference.

Restorative Justice is another positive step, and if we let that thinking infiltrate our schools and society, the problems will lessen. What restorative justice does is take the emphasis off the punitive and concentrate on looking deeper into the cause and how to repair it. There is story after story about how powerful it has been for the victims and perpetrators to connect with each other and share their pain and emotions, with the help of a facilitator. There is a person with a soul whose job it is to watch over and make a connection rather than the traditional warden. A warden makes sure the task is complete, the time measured, and that the perpetrator does not stray from the facility or cause trouble. There is a fundamental difference in these two approaches.

In this same week, our family experienced another tragedy; a young friend of one of our sons took his life at 25. The young man was troubled; a convicted felon whose job prospects were less than good, still fighting addiction and not on a healthy life path. Until the day he took his life, there was still hope that he would turn this around. I remember this person as an individual; his high school graduation speech is still one of my favorites. In the middle of telling us about his first kiss, followed by his first rejection, he burst into song and thrust his arms in the air singing a robust rendition of a few bars from the musical “Oklahoma." Before and after his incarceration, this young person never had a sense of belonging and though many reached out to him, nobody was able to connect with him.

Change will happen if we can create a culture where different is good, and if we can embrace that notion we will be better for it. It starts with the primary teachers, the parents. Children monitor and then mimic what we do, not what we say. We can tell them that being kind is the right way to be; we need to instead show them by stepping in and helping the mother with the “different” kid, rather than talk about how weird he is. If we can’t invite them over to the house, we should meet at the park or figure out how to help.

In the end, we all want to belong, we all want to matter. Without these two things, we will produce angry and lost kids who don’t know any positive ways to channel their energies and see no other way out but to shoot themselves out. It is an age-old problem; we must take individual responsibility for this and step up and be the change we want to see.

Turn the Page. Peace out, Reade

Reade Brower can be reached at: reade@freepressonline.com.

filed under: