Protect Our Children by Building Community

No sooner had I posted last week that I was on a blog writing break, in part to look for inspiration, ugly inspiration came its way. Horrifying, heart-wrenching inspiration in the form of the Newtown massacre.

Like many, my first reaction was to turn to the gun control issue – a topic our nation has long dragged its feet on, with gun proponents shouting about second amendment rights while massacres in Columbine, Aurora, VA Tech, Tuscon and now Newtown, to name just a few, heap blood on our collective consciousness.

I avoided the news this weekend, only grabbing scant details enough to understand the atrocity  I railed on Facebook, posting links to the US Senate and House, and Virginia General Assembly, imploring friends to be part of the solution – to voice their opinions to elected representatives. I joined conversations here about how to evolve the second amendment coverage to acknowledge that there are deathly, destructive weapons within practically anyone’s reach. And I saw how the conversation moved from just gun control to mental health needs in our nation. On Twitter, I attacked the NRA’s lack of response as cowardly and irresponsible.

By today, I needed to hear more analysis. I tuned into the Kojo Nnamdi show on National Public Radio for a panel discussion on the DC area’s response to the massacre – what schools and families were doing today as children headed off to school, and what our community wants to see happen in the future. Certainly something I thought of as I dropped my Ladybug at preschool today, lingering there longer than usual.

What struck me is that the conversation covered a range of related components of this crisis – easy access to rapid-fire and military grade weapons, school security, mental health needs. But what I didn’t hear much talk about was strengthening our communities so that we know our neighbors and understand who needs help and who is a threat.

One part of the conversation, offered by Washington Post reporter Janice D’Arcy, did mention that as a result of the massacre, parents realized that they need to be more present in their children’s lives. That our consuming work schedules and endless errands are taking us farther away from what is really precious in life. This, I think, is the crux of what we can learn from this tragedy.

It is our responsibility to care about the people in our community. We should know if someone is happy, or if someone seems troubled – and not only to protect our children from imminent harm, but also because being in a community means caring and building a place to live with other people.

Yes, we definitely need massively better gun control laws, and we need better mental health supports. But we also need to slow down and realize that people matter – the ones we’re related to and the ones we aren’t.

People are asking, “What can I do now to make sure this doesn’t happen again?” I have some ideas:

  • Look people in the eye – especially when you talk to them
  • Get your face out of your smart phone
  • Smile at others
  • Say “hello” to others (and look them in the eye while doing so)
  • Be nice to others
  • Know your neighbors – have them over, care about their well-being
  • Work less
  • Enjoy your children

Examine your own behavior. Accept responsibility for your own actions and be the person you know you should be. Change doesn’t start with state or federal legislation, though that’s certainly where things must ultimately must go. Police patrols at schools and locked down buildings are not the way to increase our security – knowing who shares our community space is. Parents and teachers knowing people in the community is what can help keep our children safe. Building community holds the path toward safety and security.

At a time when our hearts are heavy and it’s hard to be hopeful, it’s perhaps easier simply to be thankful.

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