There are so many issues surrounding last week’s horrific shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Gun control, help for the mentally ill, how the news was reported, violence in the media, the fact that we cry out in grief and anger over this massacre (as we should) but then completely forget the hundreds, if not thousands, of children in this country who loose their lives every year to gun violence, and whose only or worst sin was that they were born poor and/or people of color.
In the midst of all this, a colleague posted on Facebook that she was afraid to let her child play outside because she feared that he would be kidnapped by a stranger. You may have the same fear – it’s perfectly understandable. The problem is, stranger kidnapping is an extremely rare occurrence. When we keep our kids under our constant observance, we’re not protecting them. We’re teaching them that the world is a mean and dangerous place and that leads to anxiety, intolerance and anger toward anything different and a life filled with and ruled by fear. A world in which it makes sense to keep one or more guns for protection.
Our parents may have transmitted those very same fears to us. May have? They probably did because their parents did the same to them.
You think fear isn’t a major player in our culture? Can you say advertising? So many ads, especially from the cosmetics industry, are aimed squarely at our insecurities and are carefully crafted to make us feel less than, so that we’ll run out and buy a given face cream or mascara. Ads with emaciated models encourage us to diet endlessly and feel bad about how our bodies are shaped, then pass that very same fear of looking less than beautiful to our daughters.
It’s a long stretch to guns and violence, but it’s the same driving force – we are made to feel inadequate and afraid, so we hide behind our houses, our face creams, our fancy cars and our guns. The reality is, fear is everywhere, especially on our television sets, where if the shows we’re watching don’t present the world and the people in it as cruel and mean (and very often with foreign accents or dark skin), then there’s all the news on, featuring rapists and killers described as Black or Hispanic and seldom White.
I do not advocate switching off the news – that kind of sticking our heads in the sand because we don’t want to hear something bad is just as damaging and fear-driven as any other response. But we can moderate it. And we can counter-act all this fear, but it’s going to take an awful lot of work, and soul-searching and a lot of effort, but we can do it, individually and collectively.
The trick is to choose love over fear. We obviously love our children, but do we make the active choice to love our annoying neighbor, for example? It’s not about pretending that said neighbor is a great person, even though he’s constantly playing loud music at all hours of the night. It’s about not calling said neighbor a complete jerk who is obviously playing that music for the sole purpose of bugging you. It’s about connecting with said neighbor – who may have a hearing problem – and find a way to get to know each other.
But how do we get to that point? We can start by limiting the amount of violent media we consume, and by that I mean we parents and not just our kids. I love the junk food paradigm. A little isn’t going to hurt, but a steady diet of cartoons with bad guys out to take over the world or video games in which the object is to shoot and kill is very unhealthy.
Then we start thinking about the behavior we’re modeling. It may be hard to reach out in kindness to a complete stranger, or even a neighbor, but it is possible. And here is my challenge. You’ve heard of the Random Act of Kindness. Well, it’s time – now more than ever – to practice it.
Doing an Act of Kindness every day is a habit I’m trying to develop and I need help. Working from home, I don’t get face time every day with other people and typing “You go, girl,” or “Happy birthday,” on Facebook isn’t really cutting it. Plus, I get grumpy, tired and discouraged on a regular basis like everyone else.
But I have found when I do pull off an act of kindness, it does open me up to the others around me. I have found that when I’m polite and kind to others, I get trapped by some annoying people, but I also hear the most fascinating stories. In short, I have found that when I choose to react in love and kindness, I am less afraid, and, boy, that’s a good feeling.
So the challenge is, how do we best work together to develop the habit of kindness? We must do this, because whatever other steps we take to end the violence and fear that are crippling our society, it ultimately choosing love over anger and fear that will end it. It’s up to us to do it.