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The Outcasts in Our Society

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Oops! There goes another teenage killer whose school chums and parents thought that he was just an average, normal adolescent. Yet, now it is obvious that he was unable to handle the stress of walking through that minefield of social challenges that he encountered in high school and life. He couldn't help "losing it!"

Skip all the instant media hype that mocks our outrage. Disregard the post-event trauma that follows such an alarming episode of terror. Ignore the vivid scenes of truly frightened youngsters and puzzled authorities. Harken back to an hour before the shooting and imagine the tranquility on that high school campus. Ask yourself, what was there on that campus that caused this boy to commit premeditated murder?

What went "wrong" in his short life long before the actual incident? If "it takes a village" to raise our children, how can any one single person be blamed? With no one person responsible, how is it possible that his parents let this youthful assassin have a gun? Didn't anyone suspect that he was potentially dangerous? What finally caused him "to snap?" Is there any lesson we can learn from the recent shootings at public schools that might prevent this kind of incident from happening in our quiet neighborhood, in our children's high school, in our cozy lives?

In spite of all the on spot interviews, the reporters never seem to get into the recent mind of the "deviate" person who pulled the trigger. There are many after-the-fact hypotheses.

There is much hand wringing and renewed commitment to "tightening up security." There is much grief experienced by the families of the dead. There is sincere lamenting of the families for the poor, injured innocents. There are many apologies by those who feel responsible. Yet, it seems that there is little concrete action taken afterwards to uncover the root causes behind these tragedies.

The seeds of this shocking behavior are planted in all of us. They don't sprout into view until some young person can't control their growth. Of course the evidence is not clear to the average family botanist whose eyes are not trained to recognize the buds of a noxious weed. Nor to the eyes of those casual observers who share classrooms, experiences, and reversals of juvenile fortune.

The overburdened counselors and teachers in our high schools today who suffer many distractions from an undisciplined student body may suspect that there is something wrong in a student. But there are many suspicious characters, and many latent troublemakers. Where does anyone begin to guess which of these might become dangerous or violent? As mature adults we don't know ourselves just what might push us over the edge of that precipice we walk daily trying to maintain our mental balance. At any age it is difficult to manage all the demands on our lives!

The morning newspaper immediately ran an editorial claiming that there are too many guns available. And of course, there are too many knives, too many poisons, and too many ways to commit murder. Too many instruments of "mass destruction" in the hands of our youth. All these dangerous weapons just lying there begging to be used by the daring, the dissatisfied, the deranged. Especially here in America where impressionable young culprits are raised on violent movies, TV shows, and computer games! Maybe we should be grateful that more violent incidents haven't happened amongst our kids. I noticed that the newspaper didn't say anything about there being too many children, too many poor, or too many unstable human beings!

These tired clichés, feeble excuses, half-hearted analyses about what "society" should do don't make us feel very comfortable. Nor do they convince us that we are doing everything possible to find a way to stop the killings. I realize that preaching "Don't do drugs" won't eliminate the attractiveness of being the "cool" dude and midriff who indulge in them.

Nevertheless, only through the much maligned mechanism of selling sane ideas, can we hope to improve our progeny and extend our civilization. As many of us as possible need to understand what ideas contribute to abandoning the rules of society. (Assuming the basic rules are fair, just, and reasonable.) Guns can kill, but the act of killing with a gun requires a human being who is oriented to ignore the shame of perpetrating and executing such a horrible event. This young person has to embrace "killing," desire notoriety, and disregard the expected consequences of going to jail and losing freedom.

The glaring truths in the preceding sentence are overlooked by the general public today. Anyone who kills has a moral compass that points to South where it should be pointing to North. With such a guidance system that sad human being sees killing as good instead of bad, doing shameful acts as a way of obtaining peer and public attention, and giving up freedom as inconsequential.

How can anyone who lacks self-control understand relinquishing freedom when he or she never knew restraint? External or internal? This poorly balanced mind set is what society needs to address, what opinion makers need to understand, and what all of us must be aware of if we are to prevent children and adults from killing one another.

We don't have Bible thumping pastors in our churches banging home the Ten Commandments any more. The public schools are not ordained to teach morality, just academics. Any simple acknowledgment of the Decalogue's civic commands in schools would certainly undermine our constitutional rights of freedom to worship the Devil. And it might force the teachers in our public schools to "preach" religion, Heaven forbid!

So, where does a young child learn that killing is bad, very bad? Do we take these impressionable children to our city morgues, animal slaughter houses, or hospice hospitals full of very sick, dying people so that they can witness the awesome act of dying? Hopefully, to become repulsed by this first-hand experience. The video pictures don't carry the smells, don't provide the "reality," don't jar the senses. They can't impress on the unformed mind what death means to the one who dies and to the observers who deal with the actual event.

But seeing death up close isn't enough by itself to guarantee that a child won't kill. It may be a powerful deterrent for a majority of us, but not all. It has to be backed up by showing the child that society doesn't approve of anyone who harms someone else. That true recognition of an individual's value comes from what he or she does to help others, not themselves.

Today every parent, every teacher, every adult that indulges a child's right to be selfish, to have what he wants just when he wants it, is contributing to the child's misconception of the role he or she has in society. The glorification of the individual athlete over the team, the accolades for the lead artist instead of the band or the group who put together the show, the honors of the Hollywood and TV stars which pay little homage to the whole company who produces the entertainment-these are the examples that feed the young imagination with the message that individuals make the world. All the rest of us don't count for much.

Most of us learn somehow along the way that we are important to society by what we contribute, by how we "fit in," and by how we take care of others. Our self-esteem is sufficiently bolstered by feed-back from different sources so that we continue to behave in a way accepted by society. But just talking about this is hardly convincing proof to a potential, selfish killer. He wants his way, his recognition, his individual glory. He doesn't see enough reward in laying aside his desires for some unlikely praise of his unselfish actions.

Inside our heads we, too, crave more than thanks for our contributions, however slight. We want more wages, more benefits, more time to enjoy ourselves. And maybe even something extra special (surprise us!) from our peers and those who control our lives. Fortunately though, the vast majority of us don't aggressively set out to obtain that extra praise though acts that are considered disreputable and anti-social!

The third factor in this equation that promises a safer participant in our society is the periodic deprivation of wants, desires, and cravings. It is more than physical restraint, punishment, or detention. It is the mental training to delay self-gratification, self-indulgence, and self-pity. Patience, meekness, humility, and surrender are not taught today. The child must have the same opportunity to be successful as his peers.

If the parents can't keep up with the Jones family standards, at least the pampered kids can have some of the things they need to feel good about themselves. It's much easier mentally than fighting with the kids and eventually disappointing them. This "giving in" is what leads to the child's misunderstood concept that to feel acceptable, he must witness others "giving in" to him. If they don't, then he is an outcast, cast out of the world he desires to be a part of.

Now given the accessibility of a weapon, the belief that killing isn't "bad," the rationalization that glory comes from abusing or exploiting others, and the liberty to expect no restraint to his freedom, a young mind is almost ready to commit a heinous act. He doesn't have the slightest idea that this act is counter-productive to his future.

Behaving "badly" never triggered the serious, intelligent treatment required from mentors: explaining why such behavior was wrong, why it deserves punishment, and why it really doesn't bring any benefit to him over the long run. Disgrace means little to these unbalanced minds. Their self-esteem is so low, that there is no emotion to accompany a disgraceful act. They fear no eternal retribution, no temporal confinement, and no long lasting public repudiation. "I have always done what I wanted to do, and this is what I want to do today!" "Get outta my face!"

There are three things we have to instill in everybody. First, no one has the right to take a life. Second, each of us is valuable as a consequence of the things we do to help others. And third, freedom is very precious, but we can lose it if we set out to deprive others of their freedom. Not one of these three ideas is important by itself. All together, however, they assure that our children will have the right attitude about their roles in whatever society they enter.

Unfortunately, the learning process is very slow, and the efforts of our "teachers" are not very well coordinated. Further, not everyone enjoys freedom nor can handle the responsibilities that possessing it demands. Very few people will do things for their neighbor without expecting something in return. (And this boomerang payoff may be delayed or never materialize.) Worst of all, emotions are quickly acted upon without thinking about the consequences. Banning all guns won't stop killings when deeply felt hatred dominates the aggrieved person.

The real challenge to society is to start at the basic educational level in convincing the malleable minds that killing is unacceptable behavior. That the consequences are painful, if not deadly. And that any respect for eliminating someone is falsely perceived.

We can show our children that by helping others, friendship is developed, peace is promoted, and self-esteem is grown. Freedom is not relinquished when each of us tolerates strange behavior, as long as that behavior does not interfere with someone else's freedom.

To act with respect toward others sounds so simple, so logical. But each youngster needs to learn this lesson and become confident that he or she is going to be accepted by the "right" group. And not rejected for their color, some physical deficiency, or some differentiating characteristic or mannerism.

Too often, children want to reject the advice of authority figures, scrap the rules that bind society harmoniously together, and toss out the wisdom of their ancestors. Everything from yesterday has to be "put down," ridiculed, and exposed as phony. There isn't time in their busy schedules to amuse themselves to contemplate the quid por quo of their actions.

Someone will always be the scapegoat, the innocent victim, the abused outsider. Despite copying their peers, mimicking their cynical young leaders, and trying desperately to "fit in" somewhere, most of the dangerous personalities genuinely feel like outsiders, outcasts from the glamorous in-group clique. These are the ones most in need of learning the three rules to actually become accepted by the majority.

As parents we can start with our youngsters, as teachers we can work with our students, and as mentors in business we can organize our supervision to help everyone to understand that teamwork and not character assassination is the key to building connectedness. None of us needs to be an outcast-cast out of the family, the school, or our place of business.

This is not a glorious title that draws positive attention to anyone. This is not a personality we want our children to adopt. This is not an example a society wants to promote. Our indifference is allowing certain children who need attention to seek it in a manner they wouldn't choose if they completely understood the dire consequences. It's our duty to help these needy ones understand. Or bury other youngsters who do.

Chic Hollis lived on four continents, speaks seven languages and had five children, all of which helped him gain a unique perspective on life.

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