I have decided to share today some excerpts of a column I wrote in the late 1990’s prompted by a raft of school shootings. Unfortunately, those types of shootings have continued, both at schools and in other gatherings since that time.
Yes, indeed, mental illness is a problem now as it was then. Certainly, better early identification of mental illness is crucial. I am encouraged that society seems to be paying some more attention to this critical need.
I believe that my response from those shootings still has validity, if being just a bit dated. Some principles, however, stand the test of time. I think this column bears a repeat, with some minor edits…
A sickness of the soul. That’s what I think it is that afflicts our country and those lost youngsters who are shooting classmates in the nation’s schools. We all are looking for reasons for the shootings of the past 9 months so that we can have some answers as to how to deal with this problem.
I call it a sickness of the soul.
The presence of guns is not really the problem. (Yes, it is a problem, but not the core issue which underlies the chilling social problem of mass shootings). I do not happen to be a gun lover nor a gun owner, but I do not identify guns as the problem. I think the long and complex answer is in how we see children and how we teach them to fit into our society.
Essentially, kids feel unneeded-not necessarily unwanted, just unneeded. We parents of children born in the 70’s and 80’s really do want our children. For the vast majority, they were planned. Indeed, ours is one of the first generations who had reliable birth control to ensure wanted pregnancies.
Our generation even had abortion to “take care of” unwanted pregnancies. Remember how the abortion rights advocates said that abortion would help cut down on abuse of unwanted children? Unwanted children? That is not the problem.
These children born in the 70’s and 80’s generally were born into homes where there was not poverty and hunger. The economy was basically decent, or even good, and even though both parents were working, the children were not needed to help sustain the family economically.
The children were given what they needed, and very often, what they wanted. What they often did not have was the sense of being needed by the family. Consequently, many have grown up soft and comfortable, with little sense of responsibility.
I think it is not a coincidence that the strongest, the most responsible, and the most successful generation in our country was toughened by the Depression of the1930’s. The generation of people who were children between the ages of 5 and 18 in 1930 were the ones who fought and won World War II. They then went on to rebuild the United States and the rest of the world after the war. That generation was toughened by the deprivation of the Depression. They had to work hard early in their lives to help sustain themselves and their families.
They had gained a valuable sense of responsibility for themselves and for those around them. They had also learned reliance on God and they did not take their blessings for granted.
We parents who tend to give so much to our children economically often fail to give them food for the soul. We need to teach them to recognize that there is a God to be obeyed and worshipped, and to recognize that God values all people, not some better than others.
I believe that such teaching feeds the soul. If the soul is not fed it becomes sick, and then we reap the effects of a generation that longs for literal “soul food”.
We all need to learn that we are not God, and that we are not the center of the universe.
That is the easiest and hardest lesson to learn, and it is the most important one.
Prayer: Father, give us wisdom as we prepare our children and grandchildren how to make the world a better place than they found it, Amen.