Sunday, December 16, 2012

Reflections on Tragedy & American Society

“Little progress can be made by merely attempting to repress what is evil. Our great hope lies in developing what is good.”
~Calvin Coolidge 1872 -1933

I love this quote by Calvin Coolidge, our 30th President.  It is so insightful and relevant to our 21st Century world.

Whenever there is a heart-rending tragedy that touches the psyche of the American public, such as the Newtown massacre, there are public cries for change, for reigning in our civil liberties for the greater good, for greater intrusion by the federal government into our private lives. People demonstrate outside the White House and write editorials, and the 24/7 news media call for tougher laws, for banning firearms and violent video games, for a solution to “the problem” of violence in America.  The solutions offered generally involve abrogating one of the civil rights granted to American citizens by the Constitution.

But passing additional laws rarely solves a systemic problem and banning products is censorship – the antithesis of the American experience. Most crimes of such grand scale are committed by mentally ill individuals that do not get the medical and psychological assistance they need.  One of the most significant reasons is the shame of mental illness. 

Family members of the mentally disturbed are often in denial. They attribute dysfunctional behavior to teen angst or depression. Parents of teens often fail to check what their children are reading, watching or playing on the computer over concerns of invading that child’s privacy.  Many young people are not taught to respect authority, to love the United States, to appreciate they are part of a community and have a responsibility to contribute to the community. They are exposed to a level of violence on a round the clock basis that did not exist prior to the relentless news broadcasts depicting war, civil unrest, and natural disasters throughout the world.  We’ve all become more desensitized with the continuous onslaught of such visuals. It was really just a few decades ago when the public was outraged over the broadcasting of body counts in Vietnam.

There is no easy answer.  But for every action there is a reaction.  When I was a child in the Midwest of the 1960’s everybody I knew was raised in some religious faith and taught right from wrong, in focusing on the good.  Our president, John F. Kennedy, told us explicitly that we had a duty to our country and had no right to ask what the country could do for us. We said the Pledge of Allegiance in school where we were expected to behave appropriately, show our teachers respect, do our homework, earn our grades, and learn to lose graciously. I can’t help but believe that the secularization of our society and the focus on building a child’s self esteem through false accolades has contributed to the phenomenon. TV and “participation trophies” have replaced Sunday school, real achievement, and consequences. Churches and teachers are no longer able to identify a troubled child, call the parents for a conference, and plan together how to reach a solution. Parents began blaming the messengers, decided not to inculcate their children in religion, and campaigned for grade inflation and social promotion.

While I do not espouse to be a religious person, I am grateful that my parents insisted that I be instructed in religious education so that I would understand the concepts of right and wrong, good and evil, just and unjust, the concept of heaven and hell. All of the world’s major religions believe murder is against its teachings. If one who ever considered perpetrating mass murder were educated in the teachings of any of these religions, he might stop and think about the consequences of even the concept of eternal damnation, and decide it wasn’t worth the risk. 

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