NEWS SPECIAL/CONNECTICUT TRAGEDY
As the year ends with the
second-worst school shoot-
ing in US history, can we
At a makeshift memorial for Sandy Hook shooting victims in Newtown, Connecticut, December 19
Sitting far away in India, where gun controls are rigidly strict, it is extremely difficult to understand as a mother, why another mother would have such a fascination for guns.
Why Nancy Lanza would keep not one — perhaps for self
defense? — but a selection of them at home?
Equally unfathomable is why she would expose her children to these weapons and not have them in a secure place,
inaccessible to her sons. Twenty-year-olds are still kids, really.
Even more preposterous was Nancy Lanza’s need to buy
guns when there was an unstable child in her home, a youngster apparently suffering from Asperger’s
syndrome, that causes individuals evidently to lack feelings of pain and empathy.
Thousands of miles, and vast differences in culture, history and religion, of
course, divide attitudes towards guns.
We Indians, whether we live in Cerritos or Gurgaon, are
sure to immediately pat ourselves on the back, send letters to
the editor of this newspaper, or other papers, believing ourselves as not capable of worshipping the gun the way the
Lanzas do. We will be full of pride in our nonviolent culture.
But the fact is that in all cultures, the world over, even our
own, attitudes to violence are subtly changing. And it is not
merely about guns. It is about the acceptability of violence. It
is about the inevitability of violence. And the lack of surprise
at the violence that colors our society.
Whether you live in India or the United States or Peru or
JOHN MOORE/GE TT Y IMAGES
Ukraine, changing the attitudes to violence is a parent’s job
— to prevent the rise of more Adam Lanzas.
I feel parents, wherever they are, need to devote a lot more
attention to reducing the amount of violence their kids are
exposed to. That’s a no brainer.
And more importantly, and more difficultly, keep building
empathy in their children.
We need to make our society gentler, and make the environment around our children even gentler than it is. It is not
at the moment.
It may be very old fashioned to control what your child
watches on television, including cartoons, or the games they play or the
toys you buy them, but that is the point
It obviously follows that if blood-shed/gore on screen is so celebrated
and such routine viewing for your children, will they feel as much horror when they see it in real
Or if killing 66 fellows with the painless press of a button
on a video screen is so fascinating, could the fascination grow
True crime television programs like Blood, Lies & Alibis
and The First 48 may inspire a rash of youngsters to seek
careers as detectives and crime investigators, but they could
also grow a population of criminals.
All debatable, acknowledged points, but yet points to seriously consider.
We have to work to make our children
less immune to violence, whatever it takes.
The other much tougher angle is building empathy, over and above sympathy,
and curbing the effects of a dog-eat-dog
competitive, aggressive world on your
Everyone these days is hustling to get
ahead — we have millions of self-help
books available on being powerful, succeeding and encouraging attitudes of self-centeredness.
But what about tempering ambition,
teaching humility and humanity, giving
our kids an understanding of failure, in
themselves and others, and letting your
child know that he is not the center of his
environment and merely a small factor in
an ecosystem where other beings dwell?
A child, at some point in his growing
years, needs to empathetically understand
the meaning of misfortune. He needs to be
able to fathom misfortune to be able really
understand the meaning/value of happiness and satisfaction.
Most present-day kids are too cocooned
by money, gadgetry, privilege and unreality and a too strong
sense of Me, to know how the rest of the world lives.
Teaching a certain awareness of world events and situations can slowly bring humility, in my personal experience as
A child has to be carefully, repeatedly taught how not to
cause even the tiniest pain, physical or mental, to any being
in his environment needlessly and instead how to engender
happiness, in an almost mantra-like fashion, from a very
early age. That doesn’t mean you don’t bring them up tough.
According to a recent New York Times article forwarded to
me, children develop empathy early. ‘The capacity to notice
the distress of others, and to be moved by it, can be a critical
component of what is called prosocial behavior, actions that
benefit others: individuals, groups or society as a whole.’
Prosocial behavior, it continues, is ‘voluntary behavior
intended to benefit another… Such behavior is often exam-
ined through the child’s ability to perceive and react to some-
one else’s distress. Attempts at concern and reassurance can
be seen in children as young as one.’
The Times article further adds: ‘Parental modeling is
important, of course; sympathy and compassion should be
part of children’s experience long before they know the
words... Empathy, sympathy, compassion, kindness and
charity begin at home, and very early.’
So while I feel sympathy for Nancy Lanza, who was brutal-
ly killed at the hands of the disturbed son she so faithfully
cared for, I have no empathy for the mother who brought up
her children near guns, the most serious symbol of violence.
Orleans immediately after Hurricane
Katrina. She has returned to the area
several times to work with mental
health providers. Her book A Practical
Approach to Trauma was inspired by
her work with the survivors of
Hurricane Katrina, and offers testimony to their resilience.
“Right now there is a lot of talk about
mental health issues,” she adds. “But if
we learn anything from the past, it is
that we forget about it very soon. There
is still a lot of stigma about mental
Immigrant communities are not
immune from the stigma, she says.
“It is not enough to think of getting
help for mental problems,” she contin-
ues, “but getting proper help and the
‘A lot of stigma about
mental health treatment’
need to follow up with counseling and
medication (is paramount).”
Parents, she says, also need to take
care of themselves if they want to take
better care of their children, adding that
they should not hesitate to seek mental
health professionals or even call a par-
enting hotline. And parents, she adds,
can also get some help from school
counselors in dealing with emotional
trauma and find appropriate means to
deal with their children.