Last night my daughter asked me, “Mom, New York won’t get bombed by North Korea while we are there will it?”
I then woke up to the news of the abhorrent tragedy in Las Vegas, and I realized we are all experiencing fear in many different ways. Unprecedented natural disasters, fear of war, deportation, rights being taken away etc. Plus, mass shootings and terrorism events. Today I struggled to wrap my brain around why as a country we seem to experience one horrific massacre after the next.
Unfortunately, we can’t protect ourselves from cars and trucks driving through crowds, or someone shooting from a hotel room window. While there is clearly a thread of mental illness that afflicts each of these murderers, I worry about the disregard of the basic skills of empathy in our country.
Empathy is defined as the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another. It is the ability to recognize when someone is struggling, or a young child wanting to comfort a classmate when they scrape their knee on the playground.
From cruel texts and playground bullies, to mass murderers and a President who models bullying behavior and rage on a daily basis, there is a clear lack of empathy that has allowed each of these individuals to carry out their hideous acts. I can’t fathom, (and my guess is that you cannot either), how someone kills, let alone continues to pull the trigger time-and-time again. How can someone be so void of empathy?
We develop empathy through face-to-face interactions. Infants learn that when they smile, mom smiles, and this skill continues to develop as children experience face-to-face relationships throughout their childhood. While it can be more difficult for some children to develop the skills of empathy for others, in general it is possible to teach these skills.
If parents who are mortified by unspeakable events that keep dominating our headline news can use their grief to speak out for, and commit to change, then we can do something positive in the wake of this tragedy.
We’re not able to prevent all of the future mass murders, but if we can influence one troubled young adult, or help an angry teen to think about the feelings of his victims, or prevent one family from experiencing unimaginable loss then wouldn’t our efforts be worth it?
The tragedies we have witnessed in recent times inspire time to reflect on what kind of homes we create, and the communities we contribute to. It reminds us to make sure we truly engage with our kids, notice each other, and make each other feel welcome. We can do our part to make every person we encounter feel that they matter to us, and we can make every moment we have here, with our loved ones, meaningful.
So, with that, here are some ideas for how you can stand up for change, starting right now:
- Start with your own family. Dedicate time to strengthen bonds with your own kids. Commit to having family dinners, budget to take kids individually on a weekend getaway, establish strong communication patterns while your kids are young, and don’t be afraid to seek outside counsel when you feel like your efforts are not enough.
Kids need to hear about these events from their parents, not from people at school. My daughter shared with me that after the Boston Marathon bombing, rumors spread at her school that aliens had done it. She was terrified. Hearing false information and not knowing what is going on can make your children even more scared. You don’t need to go into gory details, but tell them the truth.
- Speak up to relatives when their kid’s behavior concerns you. Let them know that you have noticed a change in their child, or that you are concerned and would like to help. Sometimes kids can be more open with an aunt or uncle than they can be with their own parents.
- Advocate for programs that teach empathy and compassion in schools and early childhood education centers.
- Take action. As a society we need to figure out why these tragedies happen in the first place. Why are these individuals not getting the help they need before the situation spins out of control? How do we address the problem sooner, before it’s too late?
This was not the email that I had scheduled to go out today. I had planned to tell you why I felt so compelled to create the Mindful Parenting course that begins next week and how it can help you feel like a better parent. Instead we’re grappling with despair, rage and powerlessness, once again.
I sincerely hope there is a tiny bit of comfort in the preceding words. Talk to your kids. Hug them tight.
and the Mindful Life team