Listening to the school kids who walked out of class to protest gun violence, or the kids who marched on the Boston Statehouse to demand more gun control, I was struck by several thoughts. One was that it’s wonderful to be passionate and idealistic and want to change the world at a global level. Another was that doing something loudly on a grand scale always feels good. You sense you are doing something important.
But, I also thought, what are you really accomplishing? Are your marches, your chants, your signs, your hashtags, your demands, going to fix anything immediately in the here and now?
People are enamored of the grand gesture; the definitive fix. Of making demands and saying: “See we told them!” Trouble is, when you demand something, you have to hope that someone or a lot of someones will do what you ask. You are not really in control of the outcome.
Besides, it generally takes a lot of small fixes to solve really big issues. Today’s grand solutions with all their unintended consequences become tomorrow’s problems.
Gun violence is a problem. Gun control is not something that any of you students can personally enact. So, how about doing something not nearly as grand as marching. Something that’s a whole lot harder and braver. Something quieter. Something local. And personal. Although it may not fix things faster, it will have both immediate results and long-term ripples.
Fight loneliness at your school.
We need to eradicate it, because what strikes me in almost all school shootings is the loneliness of the shooter. Now, I fully realize that not all lonely people are going to shoot up a school, far from it. I also realize that there are always multiple problems that lead someone to do such a heinous thing. But loneliness always appears in the mix.
So why not try to do something about it?
You students say you want change. Here’s how you make change: See that no one eats lunch alone. Stand up for the kid who is mocked for not being very good in gym or for being too interested in learning or for wearing thick glasses or for struggling to get words out – or for all the other reasons kids find to exclude others.
Widen your circles to include the kids who are a bit “different.” Ignore the superficial things like size or being able-bodied or talking “funny,” and really get to know the school outcasts. Find out what their feelings and hopes and reach-for-the-stars ideas are. Find out, that except for one difference, they are just like you.
That one difference? They are lonely. And you can fix that. Right now.
Reach out with sincerity. Repeatedly, if you have to. Because, people who have been the butt of jokes are wary of overtures and often can’t help feeling like Charlie Brown when Lucy offers to hold the football. What are they being set up for? Their past experience is that attention of any kind never leads anywhere good.
It takes real guts to reach outside of your comfort zone or to stand up to the school jerks and clique-masters. It takes real maturity to reach out to those branded as “other.” It’s altogether more demanding than marching along with everyone else. But what you have in your favor is that during those marches, I kept hearing that you are strong. So if you put your hearts into it, I’m betting you could stamp out loneliness – which would take it out of the equation in school violence.
It’s one small thing. It’s not glamorous. It doesn’t draw attention to itself. But think of the immediate difference it could make in a lot of lives.