After the tragic and horrific consequences of yet another school massacre, it is crystal clear that we need to take immediate action to control the sale of guns, but this is only part of the solution. How about taking the long overdue action needed to evaluate mental illness and psychopathic proclivity and look at ways to upgrade the overall well being of students? Our immunity to the unsettling behavior of others enables us to overlook fellow human beings who are immensely troubled. This is a problem of epic proportions! Although there is no checklist for predicting a deranged killer, it is imperative that we pay more attention to those around us who concern us. It is difficult to assess the threat level of someone driving their car, walking down the street, or just passing us by, but schools provide enough exposure to create a paradigm to begin threat assessment and find ways to upgrade happiness.
Every time one of these devastating school shootings occurs we take a look at the “profile” of the assailant and construct a sorry list of characteristics after the fact. Tragically, it is with hindsight that the profile of the shooter emerges from neighbors, teachers, relatives and friends. They volunteer their opinions on the unhappy, disgruntled, agitated and friendless individual. Where were these people and their observations before the massacre? Why not take a deeper look at students who are isolated and seemingly invisible or make violent pronouncements on social media? Shouldn’t the unhappiness of those around us set off a few alarms? This is not to say that some young person who dresses in black and sits alone at lunch is a potential shooter and mass murderer; he or she could just as easily be a poet or songwriter. I am not suggesting that we judge others by their appearance or lack of social skills. My point isn’t about the magical powers of school officials, teachers or neighbors or even parents in predicting who is a potential murderer. It is about not turning a blind eye. It is about turning up the volume on our instincts and taking responsibility to seek help for a worrisome student. If someone appears to be isolated and troubled it is irresponsible, dangerous and uncaring not to seek help.
Schools test our children all the time yet there is no test that is routinely administered to assess mental health and well-being. It is imperative that some sort of assessment tool be developed to evaluate the potential for violent tendencies and also for unhappiness. Gathering information about students is vitally important. Simple questions are so illuminating, do they have friends, do they experience violence at home, do they get angry, hold a grudge, do they sleep well at night? School assemblies could be conducted on positive and inexpensive ways of coping with stress and distress. Kids should be warned about signposts of mental illness and encouraged to speak out about classmates that they feel concerned about. Kids are tuned in to their fellow classmates, why not support and cultivate a community that advocates and speaks up rather than suppressing concerns. Kids could be directed to support groups or peer counseling, mindfulness meditation, yoga and the plethora of positive and transformative methods to aid kids in coping with life. I am not saying that assessment is a foolproof predictor or that a yoga class will prevent a future shooter. But, we need to start somewhere, so why not support and encourage programs that enhance mental health? Meditation has certainly got to be an improvement over World of Warcraft video games for development of inner-peace!
So much money and time is poured into dealing with pathology and so little into the concept of inner-happiness. The outpouring of love and caring towards victims in the wake of a tragedy is immense and life affirming, but we need to invest in caring and concern for one another preemptively. I believe that the country of Bhutan is on the right tract. It measures its wealth in something called the GNH (gross national happiness) a sophisticated survey instrument to measure the population’s general level of well-being. We should borrow from this concept! I can’t imagine a healthy well-adjusted person walking into a classroom and shooting children. We need to shoot for a healthier, happier population rather then more guns to arm ourselves.