The Newtown, CT Shootings: A Lesson On Compassion And Understanding Of Our Differences

Note: As I started to write this, I wanted to discuss access to health care and address the question, “What’s stopping you from getting help?”  But then it evolved into something so much more.  I don’t want to assume anything is stopping you.  I do however believe that there are factors limiting the success an individual can achieve from the current model in society.

Here in the United States, and perhaps across the world, we are all still reeling from the fallout of the most recent school shooting to have taken place where 26 lives were lost.  Our hearts are devastated that 20 children, ages 6-7 were gunned down in apparent cold blood.  20 families are grieving the loss of a life taken far too early.  And we cannot forget the 6 adults whose lives were also taken in attempts to save children and more lives.

Most of what I have seen as a result of this tragedy is:

  1. Compassion
  2. Debate

The initial reaction from most people, was that of absolute horror, shock, and terror of seeing 20 young children and 6 adults murdered in cold blood.  This incident has raised many questions and likely will for quite some time.

But fortunately, there has been an overwhelming sense of compassion.

However, along with this compassion is the need to lash out at who is to blame.

And as the shock wears off, people now turn to who or what is to blame:

  • Is this about gun control?
  • Is this about politics?
  • Is it about mental health?
  • Is it something else?

In an effort to better understand and make sense of such a tragedy, it is only human nature that we start looking for answers.  We want to feel safe, and when a tragedy of this level occurs, we don’t feel safe.

We scramble to try and understand.

I have seen a lot of fingers being pointed at who is to blame.  Front and center, and perhaps the biggest issue I hear right now, is about gun control.  As a society, this issue has become politicized.

This has been turned into a debate for both parties to rally behind and ask for tougher restrictions or laws, or perhaps the loosening of some laws or restrictions.

But for me, this isn’t about gun control.  And it’s certainly NOT about politics.

Soon after the political debate about gun control was brought up, we heard rumblings that the killer may have had mental health issues.  And within my community, being a mental health professional, I am now hearing about the debate on access to health care.  There is even debate about the stigma associated with mental health illness or diagnosis.

It’s NOT About Politics And Gun Control…  It’s About Something Bigger

Do we honestly believe this incident wouldn’t have happened if there were tighter gun control laws?

Or perhaps if the shooter had better or more appropriate access to health care?

Wait a darn second…  Do we even know if the killer had mental health problems?  Do we know anything about his treatment at this point

The truth is, we don’t know much about the shooter.  Most information that I have seen and heard has been speculative at best.

And yes, our justice system and the investigators involved will eventually uncover more clues and find answers.

In the meantime however, we need to address the real issue as I see it.

That issue is deeply rooted within the framework of our society.

As parents, we can only do our best in raising our children.  We can offer support, guidance, values, morals, beliefs, and more…  But ultimately, we cannot impact decision making of another individual.  In my talks with families all over the world, I have seen many who do all the right things, and yet tragedy still strikes.

The one thing I take away from this incident, is that we are sincerely lacking compassion in this world.

A moment ago I mentioned that most people’s initial reaction is compassion.  It’s a wonderful thing when we as a society our united, and offer compassion, support, connection, and more to our brothers and sisters in this world.

We saw it after 9/11.  We saw it again after the Easrthquake in Japan, and we most recently saw it in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

But that typically fades very quickly and we return to the status quo.

We forget about how vulnerable and fragile life is.

After a certain mourning period, and it differs from situation to situation, we fall back into old habits and are drawn towards the pressures and demands of life.

Society Is Hurting

We live at a time when the demands and expectations of one another are at an all time high.  In many cases, two parents are out of the home working to support a family, and in many cases these families are doing enough just to get by.

If you are not familiar with the teachings of Abraham Maslow, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, I would encourage you to sit down and Google his name.

Maslow theorized that we have varying levels of basic needs.  And without fulfilling the most basic needs, we cannot fulfill or attain mastery over higher levels of needs.

The most basic needs we have are physiological (breathing, water, air, sleep, etc…) followed by safety (security, employment, family, etc…), then followed up by Love / Belonging, Esteem, and then Self-Actualization (morality, creativity, acceptance of facts, etc…).

Here is our problem!

We live at a time when we focus so much more on higher levels that we have all but forgotten that our basic needs are not being met.

Our children are being graded and demanded to perform based on standards and tests that simply do NOT measure future success, potential, or actual learning.

Our lack of compassion is now focused inwardly on results, data, and statistics.

And in turn, our children are often seen (as a group) as statistics.

We cater to the “normal” and we cast aside and struggle to support those that are not within two standard deviations of the average.  (I’m talking about the normal curve).

We as a society have failed by our constant need to label and dismiss that which we don’t understand or have been unable to help right away.

We are failing children and families affected by differences because we do not support them.  We establish controversies and set out to attack or prove someone else wrong.  We point fingers, distribute labels, and create undue pressures and challenges before really understanding the diagnosis, disease, illness, or condition itself.

We have failed, and will continue to fail because so many people lack compassion and rush to judgment before ever leading with kindness, compassion, understanding, and a desire to walk in someone else’s shoes.

As a mental health professional, advocate, and different person myself, the issue here for me isn’t so much about blame, labels, treatment, and least of all gun control.

The issue is about a larger societal problem where we have forgotten about the innocence of childhood.  We have forgotten what it’s like to be different and need help.  We have moved past leading with compassion and understanding to take focus on productivity and a “what have you done for me now” attitude.

At schools, children face ridicule for things far less than mental illness.  Our children get picked on for not fitting in.  They get bullied for dressing differently or acting differently.

And truth be told, I don’t think we know how to handle differences because at the core, we are a society that must categorize people into buckets.

Call it what you want…  I am an ADHD advocate and behavioral specialist.  I see life through a certain lens.  I take this stance because I see parallels in how we treat children with a diagnosis comparatively to how we address all differences.

We label it.  We look for answers.  We point fingers.

But that solves nothing.

Differences are what make our world and our society so unique.

People with differences are often simply misunderstood.

Children with ADHD, autism, depression, bipolar, and other conditions and diagnoses or NOT bad people.

They are misunderstood children who need compassion and understanding.

They, WE, need community who is willing to stand behind us and support us, AND NOT MOCK US (or our children)!

I felt compelled to write this post because one of the main issues surfacing now is “access to health care” and the “stigma” associated with a mental health diagnosis.

Stigma is a HUGE problem.

And to me, it’s rooted in our societal need to point out that which we feel is broken and needs to be fixed.

It’s truly sad, and I weep for this viewpoint that our children, our most precious resources, are seen as broken and in need of being fixed.

Listen, I don’t claim to have all the answers or solutions to life’s problems.  I am just one man who believes that a little more compassion, understanding, and acceptance could go a very long way.

What happened in Newtown, CT this past Friday is an absolute tragedy.  It’s downright disgusting, and my heart aches for the families who lost children so early on in their lives. In no way is this article written as a defense for the shooters actions.  Notice, I have not mentioned him by name because I do NOT want the spotlight on him in any way at all.  What he did was a despicable crime.

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