School staff Antoinette Tuff drew out compassion, courage, and love instead of a handgun when faced with someone armed with 500 rounds of ammunition intent on hurting chidren this week in Atlanta.
Fifty years after Martin Luther King's March on Washington, we don't have to dream about people returning love for hate. This woman gives us the strongest proof of King's wisdom that "returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars... Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."
After the Sandy Hook massacre, some proposed arming teachers and school staff saying "only a gun will stop a man with a gun." This summer while schools around the country were building blockades and teachers were given free target practice at gun ranges, there was little talk of how school staff could learn to talk down a gunman.
At a time when schools and parents are pushing kids to take more math and science classes, you'd think that society's hope for all its problems could be found in machinery.
Wrong. It turns out that the authentic social skills of a calm, courageous, gentle and humble leader are more powerful than any weapon or security technology in convincing an armed gunman to surrender before his planned school massacre.
Antoinette Tuff is a national hero. This is legendary. Her story must be shared, passed onto future generations.
Learning to talk down a gunman is not some top-secret strategy. FBI agents learn how to talk down gunman. They use the same skills we teach in conflict transformation and peacebuilding. Listen, ask questions, share stories, show compassion.
The men who commit mass murders are mostly mentally unstable, insecure, and desperate. They commit these atrocities in a perverse desire to get respect and earn attention. They want desperately to be loved, to be listened to. And most Americans know this, favoring greater psychological support in schools to prevent gun violence.
It is hard to have compassion for the mass gunman of the world. They are brutal and grotesque. They are hard to love. But someone had taught Antoinette Tuff that loving someone like this gunman was the right strategy. Hmmm. Loving your enemy. That is radical.
These just happen to be the same skills taught in most religious traditions and among secular humanists.
We need all kinds of security strategies. Sure, technology, science, and math hold answers to many of humanity's problems. But guns won't make schools safer.
What would have happened if Antoinette Tuff pulled out a gun and shouted threatening messages at the gunman? I don't think the armed man would have surrendered. We might all be sitting again with our box of tissues wondering how we can let the children of the world go to school in such a brutish world.
But today instead of wads of wet tissues we have a story that speaks to a power that Martin Luther King spoke of 50 years ago in his "I have a dream" speech. There is no better way to mark this 50th anniversary of the March on Washington than to line up behind Antoinette Tuff.
I have a dream of teaching our kids to love, to be courageous and gentle, to be humble leaders, to be highly skilled communicators, to practice loving those who are hard to love... I have a dream of kids in every grade and in every school learning how to relate to each other and a sometimes brutal world in classes that teach social skills. It will be this "social technology" not just science and machines, that will help the next generation make this world a safer place.