School Shooting Indicates A Need for Reform in Our Competitive Society

Once again, we woke up to the news that a high school student aimed a weapon at his classmates and started shooting. This time the episode left an even deeper mark, because it happened so close to home. Location should not make any difference but, understandably, it does.

Once again, we are left with a knot of contrasting feelings. The pity for the victims and their families; the disconcert at how something like this could happen again; the blind, if humanly understandable, rage of those who call for more security and tougher sentences. To this we should add a dose of Christian pietas for the murderer, but this seems out of fashion these days.

Yet this flurry of feelings, and the often draconian measures that it inspires, is always directed at the single episodes, failing to see the preoccupying pattern that lies behind these instances. A whole generation seems taken by a self-destructive fury, which can take several forms: the lust for self-destruction of the drug user, or the willingness to inflict destruction on the part of the person who picks up a gun. In any case, they are symptoms of a social malaise that we still do not recognize in all its seriousness.

Our gore-hungry media give us news only of particularly dramatic occurrences like school shootings, but these rest upon a substratum of teen violence in the inner cities, gang violence and so on.

School shootings are not “”normal”” murders (even if such a thing as a normal murder exists). The kids who shoot do it with full knowledge that they will be arrested and tried. They do not try to hide their identities and in some cases (as in the Columbine shooting), they start their rampage with a lucid suicidal intention.

These are not normal crimes, and calls to barbaric and useless measures like trying minors as adults will not help understanding. Understanding is what we need, now more than ever.

It is true that adolescents have always been and always will be destructive and disruptive and have a conscious desire to break away from their parents and the society they represent. This is a healthy part of their growing process and an important component of raising social awareness.

The intensity and frequency of manifestation such as murderous rages or suicidal drug habits, which know no barriers of geography, race or economic status, however, make one wonder whether there is something more in the scream of desperation that a whole generation is sending us.

How responsible are we, the adults, for this malaise? What do we know of this generation? Its members grow up alone in families too burdened by long working hours or hectic schedules to give them real support; they are surrounded by the material wealth and the barren human contact of suburban life.

They grow in an environment in which the only occasions to socialize are connected to the consumption of goods. A mall is not a place where a person learns to stay with people, but when was the last time you saw in your neighborhood a community center, or even a piazza?

We are going to extraordinary lengths not to teach our children the basic skills of human interaction. Sometimes we do this to shield them, since human interaction is often painful. Sometimes we do it because we are too self-absorbed or because the pressure on us doesn’t even leave us any space for human interaction. The results are equally tragic.

One of the most important components of an adolescent life is the need to belong.

But we indoctrinate adolescents with the idea that such a desire is a weakness, because it diminishes competitiveness. We show them that one must conform to the norms of the group (otherwise he will be a “”weirdo””) and, at the same time, not ask the group for help (otherwise he will be a “”loser””).

Very soon in his life a child is taught that he must be self-reliant, competitive and a leader. Very soon he is taught (either directly or through example) that winning is the only thing that matters and that a winner is necessarily alone.

Are we pushing children too far with too many activities and commitments, mostly for the parents’ own gratification? Are we not letting them be children, play with children, fight with children, possibly beat each other up to learn those boundaries and confidences that constitute a social body?

We are a society of very lonely people, and children see that. We are a society in which males are taught to be afraid of intimacy and not to trust each other. Are we sure that the too-good children of today are not preparing the desperate, self-destructive adolescents of tomorrow?

I wish I knew. I have, alas, only questions.

A whole generation has been subject to a cruel experiment of social Darwinism: Let them grow alone, in families too distracted to follow them adequately, and in an urban environment leading to loneliness. Let them be educated since childhood to compete and to prevail over each other. Do this to separate the strong from the weak.

The strong will grow up to give the next generation of gadget-loving, technologically advanced workers. The weak will self-destruct with drugs or, tragically, will take a gun and shoot whoever will happen to be in their line of sight.

I am shocked and I am sad for the victims of Monday’s shooting: The two boys who died just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the boy who will spend the rest of his life in prison.

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