My original idea for this week’s opinion column was completely different from the one I sit writing now. I chose my topic based on some pop culture reference that, at the moment, looks incredibly stupid in its insignificance. As I sit writing this, the need to write about something much more serious is so overwhelming that I almost feel I am going to burst.
On Monday, Feb. 27, something absolutely awful happened to the students of Chardon High School. By now everyone has heard the news stories and the press coverage of what happened. Why does this even matter to me, a senior college student in Cleveland? Because there were three deaths, and one of those hit way too close to home for me to remain silent.
At age 16, the world seems open to you, full of so many possibilities that you have a hard time wrapping your head around it. At least that is how it’s supposed to be. No high school student should have to deal with an event like this. And no one should ever have to go to a funeral for a 16-year-old. When something like this happens, the world feels like it has turned inside out and upside down. Nothing feels the way it should be. It almost seems cruel that the sun is shining.
Although this is something that should never happen, something that no one should ever go through, that is not how the world works. Unfortunately we live in a world where things like this, while terrible and shocking, are not unheard of. I sometimes wonder what that says about us as a whole. Have we become so numbed by the idea of violence that we have just learned to accept this type of thing as just “one of those things”?
I would like to believe that, generally, people are not that horrible. But the world continues to prove me otherwise. Reporters sticking cameras in kids’ faces right after the incident – apparently their professional ethics tell them this is acceptable. This makes me feel like taking them by the shoulders, shaking them, and asking “Were you even thinking?” But then again, I’m pretty sure I know the answer already.
I promise there is a point to my rambling. The point is this: what do you tell children? What do you honestly tell them when they look at you and ask if something like this could happen at their school? How do you explain the complexity of the situation to a child? You could do the callous thing and just say, “Whelp, this is the way the world works. You’d better get used to it, ‘cause it ain’t changing anytime soon.” You could do that, but then I’d have to nominate you for the Worst Parent of the Year award.
When it comes to “What should I do?” there is no right answer. It depends on a number of factors. Even for college students, there is no right way to deal with it; everyone has their own style of coping. But I have a few suggestions to make it easier.
We need to start a conversation. A conversation about why shootings like this happen. A conversation about how we, as a society, need to start stepping up. Do I believe there is a way to prevent this in the future? Possibly. Maybe if we start talking about the impact of bullying, if we start talking to kids about things they notice at school. There are too many “maybes” for me to be comfortable, but we at least need to start talking. We can’t just pretend there is no way that this could happen to us. Because face it, it already has. Denying its existence now is just an exercise in futility.
Another thing that can be done: Don’t react in anger. It’s easy to be angry and to start pointing fingers. But where does that really get you? Nowhere fast, that’s where. Reacting with compassion, while it may seem counterintuitive, may be the best thing to do right now.
Normally I end these articles with the semi-sarcastic comment “That’s just my opinion,” but it doesn’t feel appropriate today.