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"Trying to solve a problem by dealing with the problem is like trying to restore moisture to a leaf by watering the leaf -- whereas the solution lies in watering the root." -- Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

There are a lot of people pointing at the mass murder of children by gunfire as evidence that we need tighter gun control laws in the US. Would that result in fewer deaths? Quite possibly. After all, guns significantly magnify the number of deaths a single person can inflict, and it's a lot easier to wrest away a knife from an attacker than a gun for the simple fact that a gun can kill at a distance.

However, for all my sporadic sharing of my opinion on matters political, the truth is that legislation really isn't my area of interest. I am interested in nurturing the human heart, and in that respect, I agree with the pro-gun lobbyists that the real problem is not simply access to firepower. The real, underlying problem is the fear and anger and disconnect from others' (and perhaps one's own) humanity that allows someone to commit such acts of violence.

At the same time, simply bandying around the term "mental illness" isn't enough, either, as if some people are "broken" and there is little to be done about it. After all, the vast majority of those who have been diagnosed with severe disorders aren't violent. The truth is that none of us lives in a vacuum, and we all run the spectrum between resilience and disturbance. The importance of this perspective is that it greatly increases our awareness of what we can do, as individuals and as a society, to minimize the occurrence of such tragic events. And from my perspective, that means starting with those who are still children today.

I work for a school district in a small, rural, resort-town community. Some years ago, our middle school seemed headed for crisis. No one had been killed, but there were mutterings that "it just takes one." Children were caught carrying weapons that they claimed were to defend themselves because they were afraid. Teachers and staff felt helpless and beseiged. And then our community said, "No. Not here."

  • The local chapter of Soroptimists raised funds to install video cameras throughout the school to act as both a deterrent and a means of documentation. The Soroptimists also funded the creation of a Student Assistance Program Liaison position.
  • Among other services, the SAP uses the Safe School Ambassadors curriculum to help train kids to stand up for and support each other.
  • Teachers and staff worked together to conscientiously shift the school's general climate to being more open and supportive.
  • The discipline structure was expanded to include ways for students who had messed up to make amends and get back on track.
  • Staff and students were trained in conflict resolution and communication skills.
  • We were awarded grant funding to help make sure that students whose families had had to move into transitional housing could still get to school, providing supplies and means of transportation in order to help them maintain some semblance of stability in their lives.
  • The district psychologist and school counselor developed a codified Threat Assessment Procedure to help determine when a kid was just having a bad day versus when intervention needed to be escalated to a higher level.
    There's a supervised "chill room" during lunch period for kids who just need somewhere to relax and get away from other kids for a while.
  • We had a Family Advisor who created a safe place for kids to talk about whatever was bothering them, and if it seemed like they needed more than that, they were referred to local therapists for counseling.
  • The community created more resources which took on different aspects of support. One brought in speakers for school staff, parents, and the general community to show ways that we can work together to support our kids. One agency developed a "trusted volunteer" program to train and place people in the classrooms, often working one-on-one with kids to help supplement the drastic reduction in funding that has resulted in higher student/teacher ratios. Another group works with parents and teens to help families navigate changing roles and expectations with mutual respect.
  • I'm sure there were many more contributions beyond even this that I just don't personally know about.

"These all sound great," you might be thinking, "but does it really make a difference?"

Yes. It does.

When the Student Assistance Program was first created, we started measuring rates of office-level discipline in four categories:

  • Causing, attempting, or threatening bodily harm

  • Horseplay/safety (which sometimes can either get out of hand or mask deeper issues)

  • Disruption and defiance

  • Peer problems (which also include bullying and harrassment)

In 2009, the first year that we started tracking these numbers, for the months of August through November, we had 209 incidents of students being sent to the office and disciplined for the above reasons.

In 2010, August through November, we had 135 incidents.

In 2011, again the same time period, we had 123 incidents.

This year, August through November, we had 48.


I admit that I was astonished when I ran the numbers, and I double-checked to see if we had changed the way we counted office-level discipline. The answer was no, things were still being counted in exactly the same way. The middle school really had dropped the number of serious discipline issues by 75% in three years. Kids feel safer, stronger, more connected. It really does take a village, a community that decides to think outside the box and really pull together for our kids. I am so dang proud to be a part of this, and I offer it up as evidence that yes, we can make a difference.

"Yes, but..." you may say. Yes, but I live in a rural community. We don't have a heavy gang presence. We're a really small school district and only have one middle school. Compared to the rest of the state, we're almost embarrassingly racially homogenous. We have a lot of retirees who live here and who love to volunteer.

To which I counter: "Yes, but... what if?"

What if each of us made it a priority to reach out, take that extra step, realize that test results are far less a measurement or prediction of our children's potential for success than their ability to communicate, to listen to others and to express themselves clearly, to negotiate and find common ground and creative ways of identifying and solving problems -- ?

Because it's not just our children's future that relies on this. It's our own.

On resolve

I heard a great story on a podcast I was listening to a week or two ago (I think it was Derek Rydall):

A man was sitting with an old woman whom he had sought out for advice on his path. After giving him information, the woman said, "Now, please make a decision."

He said, "I have decided to go that way," pointing to the eastern road.

She smiled and said, "Ah, I see. Now, please make a decision."

Confused, he said, a little more loudly, "I'm going to go that way."

She still smiled, nodded, and repeated, "Please make a decision."

Now irritated, the man got up. "Forget this," he thought to himself, and he started walking toward the eastern road.

The woman's smile broadened. "Yes!" she said. "Thank you for making a decision."

I haven't thought much about resolutions this year. But I have been cleaning my kitchen.


I can't make this stuff up

As part of our current bedtime ritual, I asked Hunter what he liked about today. He didn't say anything.

Shawn: Well? Your mother asked what you liked about today.

Hunter: I'm thinking.
          (puts small dinosaur finger puppet on and starts waving it around.)
          While I'm thinking, please enjoy the entertainment.

(I close my eyes, trying not to laugh. I feel a soft poke from the puppet at my nose.)

Hunter: It's in 4D! The show is so realistic, it seems like you can actually feel it!


Conveying 9/11

How do you tell a seven-year-old about 9/11?

I was reading an essay about the passengers of flight 93. Hunter was on the other side of the room, rocking his chair back and forth. I snapped at him, telling him he could break it, then paused, and apologized. He asked why I was apologizing; I said I didn't have a lot of patience today, and I was sorry.

He asked me why I didn't have a lot of patience today.

I said because I was sad about something that happened 10 years ago. Hunter being Hunter, he came over and asked to know what had happened.

We had already discussed what hijacking was, explaining why we needed to go through security procedures at airports.

I told him about people flying two planes into big buildings and making them fall down, killing lots of people. I told him about another plane that had been hijacked and crashed in the Pentagon, a big building where people who made decisions about our military, our country's ability to fight and defend us worked.

He wanted to know why people would want to kill other people like that. I said I didn't know, exactly, but they were angry, and they thought that there were things about America that were wrong and they wanted to cripple us.

I am grateful that, for once, he didn't ask me to explain further.

I told him about the 4th plane, where the people on board found out about the other crashes and decided to fight back, keep the hijackers from killing anyone else with the plane, knowing even as they fought that they would be killed, themselves.

We talked about the firefighters, paramedics and police who ran into the Twin Towers, even as everyone else was running out. I told him about the firefighters who, in the race to evacuate the building, stopped to help a woman who was too exhausted to go any further, and how by carrying her with them, slowed their own descent such that they were above the levels of pancaked floors that would have crushed them if they'd been faster. I told him what it was like on that day, watching the news, not knowing how many people were dead; we expected the body count to be as high as 15 or 20 thousand people. Tragic as the over 3,000 deaths are, we forget the relief that the number was not exponentially higher.

All through telling him this, watching Hunter's face: the innocence, the grief, quivering hope and naked relief.

I told him of my friend, Tad, who had flown to NYC on September 10th and was scheduled to speak at the UN, yet found himself part of a Ground Zero bucket brigade. Curled up together, Hunter and I read the "Dog Heroes of 9/11" chapter of his newest Magic Treehouse Fact Tracker book about how 400 Search and Rescue dogs had helped find people buried in the rubble, then we eased out of the discussion by reading the rest of the book.

Oh, Hunter. There is so much beauty in the world, so much kindness, joy and love.

But there is also much of grief and sorrow, and that, too, is Life.

The pledge of allegiance

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the ideals for which it stands: liberty and justice for all.

There are reasons why this is the pledge I make. For one thing, I believe that the ideals of liberty and justice transcend political borders.

And leaving out the part about being "under God" -- ?

Some people point out that the "under God" part of the pledge of allegiance is a relatively new addition and therefore non-canonical. That's true. But traditions often change.

Some people talk about the separation of church and state. This, I feel very strongly about -- but what does that actually mean? When phrased like that, it seems an awfully abstract concept. After all, the pledge is just a bunch of words, right? Nobody is actually being forced to be religious, right?

Here is what it means:

  1. The existence of a divine being is not dependent upon belief. There may or may not be a God. Whether or not someone believes in God has absolutely no effect whatsoever on whether or not there is one. Therefore, individual beliefs are just that: individual beliefs.

  2. I know a lot of decent, moral, ethical, passionate people who are not just uncertain, but who actively disbelieve that there is a God. They are still Americans, and their ability to state their lack of belief without being thrown in prison is one of the reasons I am grateful to be an American.

Let freedom ring.


In this moment

I used to spend a lot of time online, reading and writing blogs, commenting, seeing what friends were doing and thinking, holding forth and debating all sorts of things.

Lately, though, I've been finding myself pulling more towards home, towards investing more of myself in my actual (vs. virtual) life. Sure, I still send updates to Facebook and Twitter from my phone, and I'll skim over people's updates and comment here and there, but it's a far cry from my previous involvement.

I used to see my every possible action as a continually shifting series of complexly nested If-Then statements to a degree that might well have given Hari Seldon a headache. Every nuance of choice and interaction opened up a completely different possible future.

Lately, though, I've been feeling kind of overwhelmed by my life. There are so many factors beyond my control that, even if I acknowledge and accept that lack of control, trying to account for so many permutations of possibility has become paralytic.


One of the very, very few blogs I make an effort to read regularly is by a Presbyterian minister named MaryAnn McKibben Dana. For whatever reason, she addresses numerous issues that resonate deeply with what I am personally struggling with and/or striving for. Among other things, she is currently writing a book about the value of deliberately observing Sabbath in our lives, and I have been working so hard to catch up with my never-ending To Do list, that I need the reminders that it is necessary to also allow one's self to Be.

But there is one entry which keeps coming back to me, a poem about the fallacy of the need to draw a line in the sand.

It's not about the future.
It's not about What If.
It's not about the weight of the world.
It's about now.

When faced with a choice, any choice, of an action, my mantra has become, "In this moment..." That simple phrase brings me back to the present and connects me with my life. And I have been finding that, when I am present and connected with life, I instinctively choose that which creates, moment by chosen moment, a path of love.


When I awoke Hunter this morning, he snuggled into me. He's getting so big, becoming so sure of himself and his place in the word.

So I held him in my arms, breathing him in, cherishing his soft, trusting warmth, knowing that, years from now, when he towers over me and he is a teenager, then a man, one day a father to his own children, alongside all the memories of his evolving beauty, this Hunter who lies against me now will always live in my heart.


Mirror, mirror

Conservatives who claim that the ACORN, Planned Parenthood and now NPR "expose'" tapes show evidence of obvious mendacity on the part of each of those organizations are like those who jumped on the shooting of Rep. Giffords as proof that the "lock'n'load" verbiage used by conservatives was deliberately (or at least irresponsibly) inciting.

In each of these examples, people weigh more strongly that which they believe vindicates their fears/beliefs, often to the detriment of verifying veracity.


Musings on "self-interest": a fantasy

The recent revolt in Egypt has nothing to do with the US of A. Will Mubarak be replaced by politicians who hate what they think the US is and stands for? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe we need to focus more on burnishing our Shining Beacon than on trying to manipulate and cajole other countries into being nice to us.

A friend recently quoted Madeleine L'Engle as saying, "We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it."

Maybe foreign policy could be conducted in the same spirit.

Like the entry title says: it's a fantasy. But perhaps one worth considering.


Disagreement vs demonization

Someone asked me the difference between political disagreement and demonization. I came up with the following description:

  • Demonization is saying nasty things about your opponent rather than disagreeing with his or her ideas.

  • Demonization is labeling and dismissing large groups of people instead of discussing the efficacy of specific policies.

  • Demonization is refusing to accept that there might be common ground if we looked beyond the labels.

In short: disagreement is natural and can be productive if it leads to a deeper understanding of the true nature of problems and more creative ways of finding solutions that address a wide variety of different concerns. Demonization, on the other hand, is self-defeating and makes life harder for everyone.