I couldn't find the words to respond in writing to the deeply sad news from Newtown, Conn., right away, so was grateful for two thoughtful responses on Friday and Saturday – one from my friend, educator Jackie Gerstein, in Facebook and another in the form of an editorial in the Christian Science Monitor building on President Obama's statement on Friday. The Monitor highlighted Mr. Obama's comment that the Newtown community “needs us to be at our best as Americans." We are not helpless in these unthinkable situations, as observers of a horrific event. There is always a choice to make, as the Monitor's and many commentators have written, in choosing active compassion over fear, hate, hopelessness, and blame. Martin Luther King and other great leaders have taught us that anger and hate are no response. "Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that," King said.
Jackie pointed out, as did a few reporters and bloggers, what Fred Rogers ("Mr. Rogers") learned from his mother when he was a little child frightened by something he heard in the news: "Look for the helpers." He was comforted then and "always," he wrote, to remember her words that "you will always find people who are helping," like the school staff and first responders in Newtown. She empowered him as a child – gave him something clear and simple to do and focus on in a time of fear while teaching him something important about humanity. His mother was also being (representing) the safety he needed to feel – a simple but powerful gift and lesson parents and educators can give, are giving, the children in their care in times of trouble. "Try to keep yourself calm. Your presence can help your child feel more secure," Rogers wrote. And there are so many other ways to be helpers. In another tip from The Mr. Rogers Parenting Book, he wrote….
"Let your child know if you're making a donation, going to a town meeting, writing a letter or e-mail of support, or taking some other action. It can help children to know that adults take many different active roles and that we don't give in to helplessness in times of worldwide crisis."
Many thanks to all the parents, teachers, first responders, and many other kinds of helpers all over the world.
* Mental healthcare needed. If there's anything about Friday's tragedy that's unique to the US (the very same day in China, a man attacked 22 children in an elementary school with a knife, wrote Texas A&M psychology professor Christopher Ferguson in a commentary at Time.com), it's another healthcare problem, mental healthcare (see this blog post by the courageous mother of a 13-year-old with similar symptoms to those of Adam Lanza's). I'm a supporter of gun control, but it won't stop the pathological violence of an Adam Lanza. [Thanks to my friend, writer Catherine Buni, for pointing Liza Long's post out.]
* From a teacher: "Addressing Sandy Hook (and other tragedies) in the classroom," by Jackie Gerstein
* From a psychiatrist and an author: "The Global Search for Education: When Little Children Die"
* From a President: Mr. Obama's moving remarks in Newtown, Conn. (video)