Personal sacrifice is a high price to pay for what you believe, what you do and who you are as a leader. On Tuesday, March 6, 2012, Dale Regan, head of the Episcopal School of Jacksonville, was murdered in her office by a former teacher, disgruntled and disturbed by being dismissed earlier. You can read about Dale here http://blog.esjcs.org/?p=286 and there is a larger issue that concerned leaders would do well to address and it is this.
Violence in our culture has reached epidemic proportions and no one, it seems, is able to get a handle on how to address and mitigate the misery and suffering that are the result of such acts of terrorism. They are nothing less than heinous acts of depravity against our humanity, as individuals, as communities, families and even against one's self. Since the Columbine massacre in April of 1999 there have been over 120 school shootings in the United States.
The statistics are all recorded for anyone to see such as 142 murders in 2010 in New Mexico where I live, with a population of only 2 million people. That was down from 189 the year before. In California the number of homicides in 2010 was 1,809, down from 1,970 in 2009. Let's hope the trend continues downward. Homicides (over 16,000 in the U.S. in 2008) do not include suicides and in 2008 there were over 34,000 suicides nationwide. That alone is an epidemic and if 34,000 people died in one year of some disease in this country the Center for Disease Control would be all over it. Maybe there should be a Center for Self-Control.
Where does it begin and how can we understand some of the root causes that, as responsible leaders, we might address? In 1973, I participated in a university research project that studied violence in children's television programs and how it affected their behavior. It was clear from that carefully conducted study that aggressive behavior in children increased significantly as a result of such programming. Consider the ensuing 37 years and what has happened in our culture and in our society that may immunize us against violent behaviors. What do you make of our acceptance of costly and ongoing wars that we justify by identifying an enemy so that we can blast them into oblivion and sacrifice our own young men and women in the process? The debate about whether the violence in movies, video games, and other visuals has any negative effect on young people and adults continues.
Suffice to say here that the U.S. Army uses a video very similar to some of the electronic games to train soldiers to be desensitized against their feelings about killing another person.
Schools have begun to take bullying more seriously, looking for ways to prevent it as well as responding strongly when it happens. Concerned students are stepping forward to take an active role with their peers who may feel isolated and marginalized. Schools and community leaders are helping parents find more creative and productive ways to help children participate in positive and constructive activities. Service learning programs are on the increase that show young people the value of working together to improve the living conditions of everyone whether through social service or community projects that range from protecting the environment to building a habitat.
Restoration projects demonstrate the value of preservation of our resources both natural and human. Mentoring programs connect young people with responsible adults in the larger community. Working with the younger generation is where we must begin and the time is now.