Friday, December 21, 2012

When Tragedy Strikes

It’s every parent’s worst nightmare.   We all worry about our children’s safety, do all we can to make their world predictable and safe.   Sometimes we worry too much.  Then we need to reassure ourselves that, for the most part, the world is safe and tell ourselves our children will be okay.   We come to terms with the reality that we cannot control every environment in which they’ll find themselves; and that in any event we must allow our children experiences that foster independence and the ability to meet life challenges.    We struggle to balance giving them appropriate protection with encouraging them to be self reliance.   And then we’re faced with an incomprehensible tragedy like happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School and all balance seems to be lost.

 In this kind of situation we’re struck by our vulnerability.  Our sense of control evaporates.   Suddenly everything feels less predictable.    We want our loved ones close by; we try to supervise more; we shift to a hyper vigilant mode that lasts for weeks or months. 
Some of us will not even want to think about this.   We’ll find our anxiety for our own children too intense to contemplate this kind of tragedy.   This happens in trauma.   The traumatic experience overwhelms our usual capacity to cope.  We experience fear and helplessness.  We also share the collective grief, and empathize with the parents who have lost children.
At the same point we wonder what might have been done to prevent the tragedy.  We search for reasons that will help make the world will feel more predictable again.   So we won’t have to accept that sometimes there are no good reasons.   But sometimes there is no fairness or justice.  Sometimes horribly evil things happen.  

Yet, if there is some way that another tragedy can be prevented I hope as a society we can actively accept our collective responsibility to find the means that will provide more safety for our children.  The obvious focus is on guns.  I certainly hope we can ban assault weapons and high capacity ammunition clips and insist on background checks.  The research shows that when these limits are in place, as has happened in other countries, mass shootings diminish.   Nicholas D. Kristof has an excellent op-ed piece on this.  Another focus is on who is committing these acts.  Adam Lankford in another op-ed piece talks about the three factors that identify suicidal mass killers.    First, they often struggle with a mental health problem; second, they have a sense of being victimized; and lastly they have a desire for fame.   We should be doing a better job identifying troubled individuals, and offering services and support for them and for their families.  Tragic deaths involving guns is a community problem.  It is and one that needs immediate attention.   It is the very least we can do for our children.