Newtown’s loss of so many innocent children in an act of senseless carnage has finally forced us to look more deeply at violence within our society. Many other acts of mass violence in the US come to mind: Aurora, Columbine, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma City, Killeen, and others—all carried out by our citizens against our own. It can happen in anyone’s backyard.
It is heartening that mental health might finally receive some support (including President Obama’s proposed $150 million to identify mental illness and help at-risk youth). And it’s prudent that doctors identify patients who are at genuine risk for violence with weapons, even though some are concerned that patients might be afraid to self-disclose violent tendencies if reported. While we do know that the vast majority of mentally ill people are not violent, anything we can do to support mental health treatment is a positive outcome. But it is not enough by itself.
With the largest part of the US budget being spent on international “defense,” it’s only right that we shell out to combat violent tendencies within our country. Is there a connection? This is the question we hear so often: Are we role modeling violence to youth by glorifying images of physical aggression in movies, video games, music, recruitment posters, or ads for weapons? In my opinion, yes.
It’s time we change these images, replacing them with praise for acts of altruism and kindness; achievement in academics, science, the arts, sports, and community involvement; and basically anything that leads to getting along with others. This sounds Pollyanna-ish, like something we should have learned in kindergarten. But why is it that our media has focused so much on violence over the years? Movies, magazines, and newspapers have increasingly depicted graphic violence. Older violent movies that used to be difficult to watch are now nothing compared with some current offerings at the theater. Children can open up magazines and see maimed bodies. Have we desensitized an entire generation to violence? Surely we can do things more responsibly.
There are rays of hope. For once our country’s leadership—politicians, physicians, media chiefs, and others—are talking about the problem. They are planning possible solutions together. (Also . . . is the media starting to mature? We did not see graphic images of Newtown as we did after our own Oklahoma City bombing’s disturbing image of a firefighter carrying a deceased child. Thank you for that. Hopefully we’re getting better at not exposing our children and youth to those raw scenes.)
Let’s keep moving in a positive direction, because it’s a huge job moving a society to make a quiet revolutionary change.