Have We Lost Our Way?

By Will Baker Littleton Colorado Massacre

As of this writing our Nation is reeling in shock over the Littleton Colorado high school massacre. I feel compelled to express my views on the subject, yet I am fearful that almost anything that can be said may sound trite and hollow when juxtaposed against the event. However, despite my trepidation I will proceed. For as strange as it may seem, I feel a strong sense of connection to the "shooters." It is my understanding that they were outcasts. And based on the news accounts I have seen, it seems that they spent their school days being harassed by their classmates.

By most accounts I am a successful, gregarious person. Yet it was not always this way. Although by the time I graduated from high school I had managed to morph myself into a popular person who was an accepted member of several cliques, up until about the tenth grade school was a genuine misery for me. I was a small bookish fellow in school. And I was relentlessly picked on. I was the brunt of verbal jokes, and physical violence. I would experience anxiety on a daily basis regarding the poor treatment that I expected and in most cases received at the hands of my fellow students.

It was ironic that I was so outgoing and talkative at home, yet so introverted at school. And because the situation was so humiliating I did not share it with my parents. I can remember one particular report card that I brought home with a note on it by my teacher that read, "I enjoy your son’s quiet presence in the classroom." Because I was such a chatterbox at home, my parents thought that the teacher must have confused me with another student.

Up until my newfound popularity, I would hang around with the other "losers." To this day I can remember the group. There was Joe, the smallest kid in the class, Chris, who had two left feet and couldn’t play sports, Big-Joe who, as a transferee was the new kid in school, and me, the smartest kid in the class. We would hang out by ourselves in the play yard. It was as if a primitive herding instinct kept us together. At least until the other kids showed up for one of their regular harassment sessions. At which point they would "pick one of us out" and then do something humiliating, hateful or just plain painful to the unlucky victim. We were the wildebeests, and they were the lions.

Anyway, our talk often centered on revenge. We losers would talk about shooting and or blowing up our tormentors. But we didn’t actually do it. This was twenty five years ago. There was no gun control, and most of our parents had guns in the house. The reason we didn’t shoot our classmates was not due to the lack of availability of firearms. We could of shot them if we wanted to. The difference between then and now, and the main topic of this essay, is what has changed since then. Shooting our tormentors just wasn’t an option. It wasn’t done. The notion did not exist within our paradigm.

Let me use a sports analogy to make my point. Up until the last half of this century no person had ever run the distance of one mile, on foot, in less than four minutes. Since it hadn’t been done, the notion that it could be done did not exist. However a curious thing happened. Someone eventually did run a mile in less than four minutes. And once it was proved that it could be done, a lot of people did it. Now, a four-minute mile isn’t even competitive in most circles.

Perhaps a better analogy, and one with societal implications, is the issue of divorce. During my lifetime I have seem a dramatic change in society’s views on divorce. In the past, divorce was seen as other than what was considered "normal." Then for a time divorce was viewed as an unfortunate reality. However, in my view, divorce today is deemed to be an almost natural occurrence. Just as twenty-five years ago, the members of my "losers club" wouldn’t have viewed murdering our tormentors as a viable option, most married people back then didn’t view divorce as a viable option for resolving their differences. But Pop Culture changed all that. For example, movie stars became famous for the number of marriages they had. Some would say that Moral Relativism is responsible for society’s changing views towards divorce. I am not sure if it is as simple as that.

But the shooters at Columbine High School viewed murder as an option. And they exercised that option, to the surprise and amazement of us all. Well, not quite all of us. I am sure that the community of Springfield Oregon, site of a similar tragedy not too long ago was not that surprised. For this type of tragedy clearly exists within their paradigm.

Some people say, "kids have it tougher today", as if the environment in which kids exist is a mysterious and capricious thing. I believe that we, collectively, are responsible for the experience that our children are being provided with. If kids are indeed having a tougher time of it these days, perhaps it is due to the fact that we, as a society have lost our way. If this is true, and I believe that it is, no amount of good intentioned "intervention strategies" or the installation of metal detectors in schools will make one wit of difference. Sure, metal detectors will prevent kids from bringing weapons into school. But if the root causes which are manifesting themselves in violence are not addressed, the violence will occur, as it most frequently does, after the children have graduated or been expelled.

So what has changed since I was a member of the Losers Club? The following list is by no means comprehensive, but should make a good starting point.

The level of political debate has become reduced to mostly mean spirited rhetoric. I believe that this mean spiritedness is setting an ugly tone that is extending throughout society, and probably even into the classroom.

The market place has matured. Goods and services are being marketed in a much more sophisticated manner. Bringing something to market is no longer about identifying needed goods or services. It has become the art of manipulation. I believe that this has created a culture of materialistic consumerism. I am skeptical as to whether society wants sex and violence, or is being convinced that it wants sex and violence. As an aside, I do not believe that censorship is the answer. For example, it has been suggested that the movie Natural Born Killers may have been a catalyst for the recent killings. I don’t buy it. I have seen the movie. In my opinion the film merely acts as a mirror, reflecting back to us who and what we are as a society. If we have a problem with who and what we are, breaking the mirror isn’t going to change things.

Through improvements in technology and a shift in our mass perspective, we have quickened the pace of life. To a certain degree we have placed ourselves out of our own reckoning. Old sayings such as, "a penny saved is a penny earned" no longer apply. We have lost our sense of perspective, and this has created a situation where the need for instant gratification has become the norm. In a curious way I believe the shooters were seeking instant gratification through their act of insanity.

In closing, I believe that there are not more monsters among us now than before. I believe that the potentiality for terrible acts, as well as acts of charity and kindness exists within us all according to the same proportions as they always have. The difference is that our current culture is playing to our baseness, while it used to celebrate the aspiration to become something better than we are. Violence in our schools, no matter how heinous, is not the problem. It is simply a symptom that the fabric of society is coming undone.

 

(Essay Collection)