I'm sure the editors - along with the rest of the nation - have heard more about the shootings in Colorado than any of us would really care to. In true car-wreck fashion, we've craned our necks, hating ourselves for wanting to look, feeling as though we must, hearing the pundits proffer explanations, the politicians offer solutions, the water-cooler psychologists laying blame on everything from trench coats to Marilyn Manson. We've been treated to the interesting spectacle of the media reporting on itself over-reporting in a Pulitzer-sized version of the snake eating it's own tail.
Yet I'm convinced that we need to remember what happened in Littleton and the rapidly growing number of schools that have had similar incidents - and that nearly every proffered solution will do nothing but make the underlying problem worse.
I recently had a case of strep throat. I'd been taking the usual - antihistamines, cough suppressants, and a truly staggering number of cough drops. As a direct result, I was running a low-grade fever by the time I saw a doctor, who promptly prescribed some antibiotics. She scolded me for waiting so long to see her, and then gave the advice that is repeated daily in physician's offices everywhere: "Keep taking this medication until it's finished. Don't stop when you begin to feel better."
Every doctor I've ever seen since my birth has issued this advice, and I can't think of any reason why one would say otherwise. Isn't it obvious that you should take all of the medicine? Don't you want to be free of the disease? But like the inane warning labels that routinely make their way onto Internet comedy lists, there has to be a reason behind it.
It's the same reason why it took me so long to get into the doctor's office in the first place - Americans routinely ignore problems unless they're immediate, and especially if they can make the problem temporarily disappear. A supervisor of mine once called this "crisis mode" operations - waiting until the problem simply cannot be ignored any longer, and then overreacting in a vain attempt to fix it as soon as possible. It's the proverbial squeaky wheel getting the grease, while never bothering to check and see if the axle is rusting through.
From my point of view, there lies the problem with all the well- meaning solutions, from school uniforms to gun control, that have been peddled like cough syrup since Littleton. They, like cough syrup, may make the symptoms go away, but do nothing at all for the underlying disease. In essence, we're prescribing aspirin for our society to relieve the pain instead of insisting on chemotherapy to deal with the cancer that is causing the pain.
Whenever we point the finger of blame at anything other than the underlying problem, we like to pretend that part of a finite "blame pool" has been drained away. The more blame we affix to anything else, anything other than ourselves, reduces the blame that we feel we deserve. We do feel a sense of societal blame - that's part of the reason why underlying causes are still being talked about. Why they're mentioned - and quickly turned to other ancillary "blames".
My quick-fix solution? I don't have one to sell. I can recognize that certain individuals, especially those who pulled the triggers, made specific decisions and to them is rightly affixed most of the blame. I can agree with the quick-fixers that there is an underlying problem, but it's not something that can be legislated, not something that can be mandated by dress codes or by censoring certain movies and video games. It's in each of our own homes. It's us, the parents of America's children.
Any solution short of a fundamental solution, short of each and every one of us realizing what effect we can have on our youth, will only help us to forget the immediacy of the problem. It will allow the pain to slip away as the funerals fade from the credits of the evening news, and let us bask in the warm knowledge that Something Has Been Done. Whenever we allow legislation and schools to take up our parental responsibility, we're simply taking aspirin, hoping the pain will subside enough that we can get good night's sleep.
Responsibility is scary. It's a frightening thought that the responsibility for how our children - and as a result, our nation - will develop lies not with the government or with the school principal, but with regular people. With individual parents, in individual homes. We cannot expect our government to simply dictate a list of "dont's" and proclaim ourselves absolved of our duties; our children deserve parents, not babysitters.
The results of our efforts now won't be seen for a generation. That is something we've forgotten in our familiarity with microwaves and the Internet: Some things simply take time.
Many of the quick-fixes have positive - and immediate - benefits. It would be illogical to deny that. I wish I had the confidence that we as a nation will continue with the difficult, painful, and slow chemo treatment once we take our legislative aspirin and make the pain go away now. But I don't.
We need the pain to remind us to keep working on the hard solutions, to keep going back to chemo, even though we can't see the results right away. We cannot allow ourselves to go into denial, believing that a lack of immediate symptoms means that the disease has gone away.
In the days since the shootings I've seen calls for increased gun control, banning trenchcoats, condemning the news media, criticizing video games, movies, and music. I see all the supporters of these measures spinning this tragedy into their own pet cause, rubbing their collective hands over the suddenly increased support they are enjoying, and I have to wonder how so many deaths were so easily transformed into so many soundbites.
Here's two aspirin, America. Call me in the morning.
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