Yesterday unraveled like most Sundays: church followed by coffee at Starbucks with my adopted mom whom everyone calls "Nana." Nana has four middle-aged kids and eight grandkids which means she has plenty of funny stories to share. This particular day though, Nana spoke of a situation that has a thread of anger in it and though I tried to listen intently, I couldn't help but be distracted by two little boys who were scurrying around the coffee-shop patio -- yelling loudly at, then scaring away, every little finch they could find.
At first, I watched their game and thought their actions to be "things boys do" but then I wondered if their acts of aggression were the result of "missed teachable moments" on the part of the parents or the school system, or if kids are genetically pre-disposed toward these types of actions.
I thought of my own son, who at age four, ate half his grilled cheese sandwich into a shape and then asked me what it was. I beamed "Florida," thinking how smart he was to know what his home-state looked like. Then he quickly retorted, "No mama, it's a gun," giggling at my ignorance, while I sat at the dining room table horrified that despite my best efforts to teach peace and compassion, his instinct was to make a toy weapon that if real, could kill people.
I thought about that conversation that took place almost 21 years ago today and wondered, what is it that draws one child in a given direction and another toward an act of violence?
I then returned to the present, just as one of the little boys in front of me raised his arms while yelling at the bird two feet in front of him. Who will he grow to be? Why do he and his brother think it's okay to frighten another living creature? But then I asked myself if I was being over-sensitive.
Then it hit me: It's the third anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and through my work as the head of the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Foundation, I oddly enough know of two other boys, both now deceased -- each participants in bold, violent crimes: one as a victim and one as a shooter. I know too, their grief-stricken mothers: one the bereaved mother of a university shooter and one the bereaved mother of a Sandy Hook Elementary School victim.
With these two heartbroken moms in mind, I looked again at the two little ones in my presence and pondered what went wrong in the lives of the shooters of both acts of violence mentioned above? More important, what can we do looking forward as we try to "course correct" our nation's ever increasing relationship with murder and violence?
More gun control? That may coming down the pike. Tighter security in elementary schools and universities? Sure, but we also have to look at the venues of violence over the past three years and take into account that shootings have also occurred in places of employment, homes, restaurants, a theater and more. So where do we look for one positive step forward, something we can all participate in?
We look to Scarlett Lewis, mom of six-year-old Sandy Hook Elementary victim, Jesse Lewis. In the face of tremendous grief, Scarlett founded The Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation whose mission is to teach individuals to choose love.
"I wrote a book called, "Nurturing Healing Love" that details the first six months of my journey of hope and forgiveness," said Lewis. "My mission started with Jesse's words he wrote on our kitchen chalkboard shortly before he died: 'Nourturing, helinn, love' (Nurturing Healing Love). Those three words are in the definition of compassion across all cultures. They make up a simple yet profound formula for choosing love in contrast to choosing fear, which includes acts of violence."
"I believe that by empowering children to choose love over fear via social and emotional learning in our schools, we can cultivate a safer, more peaceful and loving world. That's why we introduced legislation into the US Senate called the Jesse Lewis Empowering Educator's Act," she said. "Though it didn't pass, some of the language from it is in the new "Every Child Succeeds" Act."
"Not all kids receive the gift of learning love and compassion at home, so we have to take steps as educators and community members to help the children in our midst learn to be kinder, more compassionate beings -- while empowering them to thoughtfully choose love rather than fear as they make decisions. If we can teach them this when they are young, we stand a much better chance at living in a peaceful world, where all creatures are treated with compassion and care."
I couldn't agree more, Scarlett and I hope you're right that our country is heading toward the creation of social-emotional learning opportunities.
The little ones I saw yesterday may have a bumpy road ahead if someone doesn't step up to teach them lessons of compassion. Maybe they'll teach us older "students of life" a thing or two along the way, as well.