As we sit stunned by yesterday’s shootings in Connecticut, little more than a week before Christmas, many are asking why. What would cause someone to do such a thing? I feel the problem is not so much an individual as a societal issue.
Let’s look back at our roots, where we began as a country. Those who came here from Europe were devoutly religious people. They had a keen sense of what was right and what was wrong, according to their understanding of the Bible. There were definite guidelines for acceptable behavior and severe penalties for infractions. People knew where they stood in relation to the laws.
Were those laws infallible? No. I’m sure some innocent people were punished for lack of an alibi, just as I am sure some who were guilty went free due to lack of evidence against them. But overall, having a solid foundation, taught from birth, gave stability to the country.
There were always individuals who chafed at the restrictions, who longed for something different or better, just as those original colonists left England and Europe to find someplace to call their own. Many of those people became our pioneers, moving west to find new opportunities, prove their worth, or simply to see what was out there. Yes, undoubtedly a few wanted to escape prosecution for crimes they’d committed. But mostly, they were restless people with a hunger to move on and find something new, someplace no one had seen before.
Throughout history society has had individuals who just didn’t fit. They became warriors, bandits, explorers, pioneers. Even in the churches, there were those seemingly destined to wander. Think of the missionaries in America’s Southwest. But through most of the last millennium at least, there was a keen sense of right and wrong. Whether a person believed a particular ideology or not, society as a whole was based on religious principles.
Now, move through history to World War II. Our nation has become large and strong. Many of our men have gone to fight on foreign soil, leaving their wives and children behind. Due to necessity, our women stepped in to fill positions traditionally held by men, in industry and as merchants, to feed their children and preserve hearth and home. Grandparents, aunts and uncles all helped to raise the children of the family, while mothers toiled in factories for the war effort.
Still through all of this, there was a solid religious background. Children were taken to church to learn values which would help them become leaders. There was still a definite right and wrong, and strong family ties. Nobody wanted to have to ‘talk to your father’ when he got home. And nobody wanted to get in trouble at school, not only for what would happen at school, but for what would happen at home. Parents and school teachers were probably neighbors and friends, so if there was a problem, everyone knew about it.
But from that time forward, we see more and more women working to provide a better life for their children, and more and more children raised by baby-sitters and day care centers. True, some of them provided principles for living. But as anyone who has dealt with children can tell you, without parents reinforcing these same principles at home, it is an uphill battle. After a long day at work, it’s hard to find the energy to work with energetic children as any parent will tell you.
And of course the reverse is also true. If the day care center teaches something contradictory to the parents’ ideals, or allows chaos to reign all day, trying to instill self-control and personal responsibility at home is nearly impossible. A decline in discipline in our schools across the nation doesn’t help, with teachers and administrators striving to keep order with their hands tied by restrictions and regulations.
Now many of you are going to point out how horrible discipline in schools was a few decades ago. I agree that corporal discipline in school got out of hand. But I would also suggest that there are other ways to correct behavior which get the point across just as well. You first have to start with the idea that children need strict guidelines to follow and they need to know there is a penalty when they cross the line. And you have to accept the idea that, sometimes, being put on the spot and being exposed to a little humility is a good thing.
So we now have a society where laws abound, but in which right and wrong are separated by a large expanse of gray. Most of us function reasonably well, though our inner cities are trouble by gangs and we can trust nobody if our car breaks down by the side of the road. When the lines between right and wrong are blurred, people with no foundation need to find the line in the sand. How far is too far? How much is too much? They seek answers and guidance from a society which hasn’t provided much in that department during their lives. They push the boundaries until something happens.
But what about those individuals who just don’t fit? What about those, who in older times, would have been our explorers or pioneers, or those individuals who would have followed them into the vast unknown? With no escape from a suffocating society, some snap. There are no more frontiers to explore, no place to go where the pressures of society can’t reach.
Some occupations would lend themselves more to these individuals, but they require considerable education and backing, which requires the self-discipline to make it through the coursework, which most won’t have. These should be the people law enforcement has to deal with, not those struggling to find a path to follow. For those people, the answers are more difficult.
Am I blaming this all on our mothers? Am I saying that women should never work outside of the home? No. In many cases, it is necessary for the good of the family. I am laying it at the feet of both parents. If both parents work outside of the home, they must carefully choose who will raise their children. What principles will they learn from their care givers? Will they have a structured environment or will their day be filled with mayhem and confusion?
What kind of structure do they have in their classroom? Do they have definite guidelines to follow, or is it alright to stand on the desk and throw things at other children? Drop by and visit your child’s school unannounced sometime and find out for yourself. If you don’t like what you see, speak up. Have your child moved to a class which will give him or her the guidance you want them to have.
We need to return to the idea of self-control, self-discipline and responsibility. If we make a mistake, we must bear the burden, not say it’s someone else’s fault. We must start teaching principles for living, right and wrong, and there must be penalties for each and every infraction. Remember also, it isn’t enough to state what is right or wrong. You must also teach why it is so. “Because I said so” isn’t enough. “Because this book says so” isn’t either.
If we give our children a good, strong foundation on which to stand, our future will be brighter. If tomorrow’s leaders understand the difference between right and wrong, instead of doing or saying anything that will give them the lead, our government will make better decisions. If our children understand why a thing is right or wrong, their decisions will be based on something more than fashion or who’s the hottest new actor or musician.
Self-discipline, self-control and a sense of responsibility need to be the foundation of our society.
Are you up to the challenge?
A piu tardi….