Tuesday, May 01, 2007

What Can We Do?

If there is one perfectly predictable result from the recent tragedy at Virginia Tech, it's that lessons would be learned almost immediately, and that they would be the wrong lessons. Dr. Pournelle wrote much the same after the Columbine shootings, and not much has changed in our body politic since then.

Predictable response number one: calls for more gun control.

And this would have helped ... how? Virginia Tech was already a gun-free zone, and there's already a law against murdering your classmates. Besides, "gun-free zone" derives from the ancient Sanskrit phrase meaning "target-rich environment." A bit of prompt return fire might have cut his spree short, don't you think? But any time is a good time for the usual suspects to take more weapons out of the hands of law-abiding citizens. Feh.

Predictable response number two: super-vigilant crackdown on "suspicious writings."

While this makes sense on the surface, and comes a little closer to the mark, it still doesn't address the root problem ...

Generally speaking, I detest "root problem" arguments. They're a shuck, a dodge. They allow an intellectual to bloviate, pontificate, and otherwise wax eloquent, looking very in-touch and knowledgeable, without any messy necessity to actually try to solve the problem at hand. But at the same time, band-aid solutions are scarcely any kind of solution at all, when we're talking about problems of behavior that have roots that are decades deep. Cracking down on students who turn in works of "creative" writing full of violent fantasies isn't going to help much. The roots of what's going to cause him to snap run deeper than that.

But what can we do about it? Because we all know what the problem is, don't we?

We have a kind of "wink, wink, nudge, nudge" acceptance of bullying in our schools. Boys will be boys, and all that rot. After all, any TV program about high school will show you that there are the cool kids, and then there are the nerds, and of course the nerds have to be ridiculed and humiliated.

If he'd had one real friend, just one, would he have gone off the deep end like that?

Mind you, he might have: sometimes something's just not right with the wet-ware. Wet-ware problems scare people. We don't understand them, and really don't know how to deal with them. Sometimes we can treat them with medication, sometimes not. Sometimes we can identify a physical cause and remedy, sometimes not. Sometimes they just go away, as mysteriously as they came.

But sometimes, monsters are made, not born.

But what can we do? As parents, we can do our best to insist that our children not mistreat their peers. Tell them, and show them by our actions, that making fun of the weird kid is not OK. Encourage them to befriend them instead, and be nice to them. Be the one who makes their lives better, not worse. And for those of us who are teachers, stress the same things with your students. But I don't have to tell you that, do I? You see it every day, and surely know the situation far better than I.

The only real answer here is one of the most difficult things that I know of: loving the unlovable, and becoming instruments of mercy and grace. Love is the only thing that can heal the wounds of bitterness and hatred. As it was written so long ago: "And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love." (1 Corinthians 13:13)

No comments: