Paying attention as a cure

By Christie Hardwick
Special to

With all the focus on school violence of late, I decided to do some research about the history of this blight. Having been an elected School Board member for two terms in the 90’s I was familiar with the concerns for student safety, the zero tolerance for violence and weapons in school and the mistaken belief that some schools were exempt. In Fremont California where I served we had a 30,000 student district with a diverse student body where 115 languages were represented (many different Chinese dialects included). Just down the road approximately 20 minutes by train was Oakland where gang violence and other urban problems erupted daily.

I remember that my fellow board members and many parents would say, “that’s Oakland, that’s not our problem”. I would remind them that Oakland was just a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) ride away. Schools like the one in Parkland Florida may have thought they were exempt from something like the 17 students being killed and the nation has been startled by their fury. I am glad they have our attention.

My research uncovered a school violence report done by the U.S. Secret Service on behalf of our national security. They studied a decade of school shootings (report dated 2002) as one the the aspects of school violence including bullying and fighting. Here is what they found about the shooters: The attackers did have some things in common:

• The attackers were males, 11 to 21, most between 13 and 18
• Almost all, 98 percent, suffered a loss of some sort before the attack and failed to cope with it well, becoming depressed or suicidal, and thinking of retaliation. The loss could be one of status, relationship, job, or health of the attacker or a loved one.
• Many attackers had been bullied, or felt injured or persecuted by others. In some cases the bullying was severe, and bullying seems to have been a factor in at least some of the attacks
• Most attackers had previous access to weapons and had used them before

Rather than profile young men who we think may be violent some day or arm teachers which some support- my response to this is a question- what if we as a society paid more attention?

What I mean by that is not putting it all on the teachers, administrators and other students but all of us. If there is a child in our neighborhood who has suffered a recent loss what if we cared about that and reached out to the family? The way we live in most areas of the U.S. we wouldn’t dream of ‘intruding’ on people we don’t really know. We hear about it and maybe smile at our neighbor or go as far as to bring them some food, but do we speak to them? Speak to their child and share our compassion? We don’t for the most part not because we don’t want to intrude, but because we don’t want to be rejected. Or we don’t want to be uncomfortable, vulnerable and in proximity to their pain.

I know I am guilty of this. I would rather write a check, write a letter, sign a petition, march, vote, or raise money before I want to look into the eyes of a suffering person and say, “I’m sorry, how can I support you right now?” Or sometimes just sit with them, as Elizabeth Kubler Ross has taught us about grief, “don’t just do something, sit there.” In our desire to be busy, useful, and productive we don’t have time to be present.

This is my proposition. Pay attention to each other. Risk being rejected. Risk looking foolish. Risk feeling. It could make a difference in the life of someone in so much pain they are willing to cause pain to themselves and others. And do I think common sense gun reform is part of the solution? Absolutely. We need both. We need to de-escalate the militarization of our police, we need to make assault weapons unavailable to civilians and make the bar for owning and operating a gun at least as high as owning and operating a car.

“Mother, Mother there’s too many of you crying, brother, brother, brother, there’s far too many of you dying. You know we’ve got to find a way, to bring some loving here today”… the immortal words of Marvin Gaye and maybe “bringing loving here today” is paying attention. And maybe we learn to pay attention to ourselves, our own spiritual, mental and physical health so that we have the capacity to pay attention to others.

Ready to pay more attention to first what goes on inside of you and then what goes on around you? Wondering how you can be more compassionate toward yourself and others? Join us this fall in Provincetown, Massachusetts—known as “lands end” in Cape Cod. We have designed a three day retreat where music, spoken word and workshops will allow you to reflect, relax and renew your spirit. Register here:

Christie Hardwick Author of “The progressive wedding book”
Spiritual guide, activist, LGBTQ Non Profit Advisor
Performing artist and leadership guru.

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