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Plant City Observer Thursday, Aug. 2, 2018 4 months ago

Thinking Positive: Can engagement help prevent school shootings?

Positive influences and a sense of purpose could guide young people correctly.
by: Columnist Columnist

I realize, as a history buff, that events which seem new and baffling just come in different packages holding old gifts. Without this realization, it becomes too easy to ask, “What happened to this country of ours?” However, the recent school shootings do tend to prompt that question.

These incidents saw a few disaffected young men act on ideations that took innocent lives. The causes of such actions range from feelings of social isolation to rejection by peers at a sensitive age in life. Another possible cause comes from seeing antisocial behavior like threatening social media posts as someone “just being a teenager.”

When irritable moods start being acted upon in anger, or an unreturned infatuation leads to inappropriate expressions of bitterness, then adults move to contain such moods with love and care. It seems one common factor that the recent school shooters shared was unstable or fraying support networks. It seems that they experienced rejection from schools, community, and family.

These young men made their own tragic decisions leading to these terrible incidents. Would one kind word or supportive gesture have induced a better outcome in these situations? The answer stands as far from certain, however it looks like a chain of opportunities got missed.

Blaming what happened on anyone becomes counter-productive. Instead, being good students of these events and applying lessons learned provides hope that a nascent mass shooter becomes a decent person. 

Social structures in the larger community aid in providing outlets to channel immature impulses like explosive anger. Sports teams, clubs, and service projects help to send chaotic emotional energy in more beneficial directions. 

Genuine engagement by leading adults in the lives of younger people also enhances outcomes that lead away from violent behavior. One basic need we humans share is the desire to feel valued at some level. This means recognizing the uniqueness of personal gifts, and it means communicating the affirmation that each individual life contributes to the ongoing goodness of humanity.

Having a meaningful, fulfilling purpose for living provides motivation for people. When this purpose becomes obscured in someone’s life, sharp-edged energy expresses itself. Antisocial acts then provide the meaning for daily life. However, once a life purpose registers with someone, they decide if it just serves the self, or helps other people as well. If these questions get positive answers, the likelihood of gaining infamy as a mass shooter reduces itself. 

No matter what stage of life we face, asking ourselves, “What is your purpose?” reveals important perspectives.  Asking a young person that question might start a conversation leading to a better life.

Reminding ourselves that young people who show purpose contribute in heroic ways to our country remains important. Soldiers overseas demonstrate this on a regular basis, showing as they do one of the most visible definitions of a life mission.

Perhaps a few well-placed questions and heart-felt compliments could play a part in making sure that our young people live the long lives which they deserve.

Scott Toler is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor living in Plant City. He can be reached at [email protected]

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