Updated: Mar 17
Two teenagers in a Santa Clarita high school were killed in a shooting. All they did was go to school. They never came back. It is sight that has become all too familiar. Breaking news of a gunman, often a fellow student, on a school campus in any given city in the United States has become all too familiar. Schools are training kids and teachers drills on lockdown procedures in the event of a shooting. Some schools are arming teachers with guns of their own for self defence. Schools have become ground zero for acts of violence and self-loathing, instead of a place for learning, friendship, and belonging. But I'm not going to talk about the prevalence of guns in America, or the culture of owning guns in America, or even the lack of legislative will to change what is a sickening trend in America. I want to talk about kindness.
Not long ago, I came across a powerful TED Talk given by Sue Klebold, the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the shooters (and a student) at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado (the massacre took place in 1999 claiming the lives of 15 people: 12 students, 1 teacher, and the two gunmen). She talked about how as a mother she was expected to know her child's intent. She was expected to know her child's deepest and darkest thoughts. And how she felt she failed as a parent for not knowing her son, or the version of her son the world would come to know.
The reality is, we can't really ever know someone. Not fully. As a mother I would like to say that I know my son, inside and out. Except, there are parts of him that he doesn't even know yet and is developing. My hope, my job, is to raise a child who is kind and unafraid to offer and to ask for help should he or someone he knows needs it. My hope, my job is to help him be aware of his emotions (and that of others however much he can). As he grows older his mental health will comprise many layers which he will have to navigate his way through, as will his peers with their own emotional layers. Hopefully he will recognise and accept that there will be times when something doesn't feel right--but here's the key--that it is ok to ask for help. That it is always ok to ask for help. Sue Klebold said, "When I looked back on all that had happened, I could see that my son's spiral into dysfunction probably occurred over a period of about two years, plenty of time to get him help, if only someone had known that he needed help and known what to do." She would go on to add, "I've learned that no matter how much we want to believe we can, we cannot know or control everything our loved ones think and feel, and the stubborn belief that we are somehow different, that someone we love would never think of hurting themselves or someone else, can cause us to miss what's hidden in plain sight."
The Dalai Lama tweeted today, "Scientists say that it is basic human nature to be compassionate because we are social animals. When individuals are too self-centred they tend to be prone to fear, suspicion, anxiety, and anger. Compassion acts as an antidote to this." Kindness is perhaps one of the most powerful tools we have because it allows us to see people as the wonderful, sensitive, strong, flawed, vulnerable, and even troubled beings that we are. Kindness allows us to be open to recognising someone's (and our own) pain because kindness is rooted in the belief that we are all the same despite our superficial differences. We are all trying to find our way to ourselves.
We will never know if kindness could have stopped the shooters before they went on their rampage at Columbine, we will never know if kindness could have stopped the shooter before he decided to kill elementary school children at Newtown, or the shooter at Virginia Tech, Parkland, or now Santa Clarita. What we do know is that life can be a struggle. It doesn't mean that we will go out and commit acts of violence. But it does mean someone somewhere is in pain, as each and everyone one of us will have been at some point in our lives. And kindness opens our eyes to that and enables us to reach out. Maybe before it's too late. It's as Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action, the group lobbying for gun violence prevention says in her book Fight Like a Mother: “You understand that it’s part of your role to make the world a better place for everyone; it’s a moral obligation that you feel not so much as a duty but as a simple fact of life.”
Kindness heals. And there is a wonderful piece on the actor Tom Hanks. Reading about his generosity of spirit, his unwavering faith in humanity, his kindness, the simplicity of his acts yet the magnitude of their impact, is a soothing balm on anyone's troubled soul. I remember a while ago listening to an amazing Desert Island Discs on which he was featured and you really get a sense of just what a wonderful person he is. In this article, journalist Taffy Brodesser-Akner writes about why Hanks chooses the roles he is known for: "He favors stories of extraordinary acts that are based on reality — proof that extraordinary things exist, that they don’t just have to be imagined. It’s a movie with optimism. It’s a role where you get to wear a uniform and a hat. It’s a debonair man with good values who has the perfect comeback. It’s war heroes and the promise that science will make us better and how history should be memorized. It’s a belief in humankind, that we can’t all be that bad." It's a belief that, in reality and in the movies, given a chance, maybe kindness can change the course of someone's life, if not our own.
I will leave you with the words of perhaps one of the kindest men to ever grace our screens, Mr. Fred Rogers (who Hanks plays in the film A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood: "The world needs a sense of worth, and it will achieve it only by its people feeling that they are worthwhile.” It begins with raising kids to be kind to others and to themselves. It begins with being kind to others and to ourselves. You never know whose life it might save.