April 18, 2007 in City

Imagination, not blame, leads to prevention

Pia Hansen Pia K. Hansen Columnist
 

My friends often tease me, saying, “There’s something rotten in the state of Denmark.” Today, I’d like to suggest that there’s something rotten in a country where our children get shot when they go to school.

At Virginia Tech, there are 33 dead students and faculty. I spent much of Monday night and Tuesday morning watching TV and going online trying to make sense of it all.

I can’t imagine what parents, families and friends of the victims feel like. I don’t know how it feels to jump out of a classroom window while your friends are getting shot behind you. Horror is the only word that comes to mind.

This much I do know: If I had lost someone in that shooting, I would have wanted a completely different response in the first place. I would have wanted a lockdown of campus after the first shooting; I would have wanted more police on the spot; heck, I would have wanted the National Guard called in and those big dogs let loose and helicopters and armored vehicles – I would have wanted everything different because I would have wanted my dead child back.

I also know that we are getting ready for the blame game.

Over the next couple of weeks we’ll blame violent video games and the availability of guns; we’ll blame violent movies and bad diets; we’ll blame drug addiction and the lack of police funding. We’ll blame the absence of God in young people’s lives and the lack of access to mental health counseling. And of course we’ll blame the news media.

Sadly, affixing blame does not fix the problem.

In reality, as Dr. Phil McGraw pointed out on CNN Monday evening, there is only one person to blame in this scenario: the shooter, Cho Seung-Hui.

As I got off the Internet late Monday, I couldn’t help thinking of a presentation Dr. Edith Eva Eger did as part of the City Forum speakers’ series last year.

Eger survived the Holocaust as a child in a concentration camp, and she’s now a psychologist in California, where she has facilitated communication between children of Holocaust survivors and children of Nazi families.

Asked how we can prevent an evil thing like the Holocaust from happening again, Dr. Eger said that, regrettably, humankind suffers from a lack of imagination.

“We are always preoccupied with the last horrible thing that happened,” she said.

“Look at the shoe bomber – now we all have to take our shoes off before we go on the plane,” she said, “but is that going to prevent someone from ever again blowing up a plane?”

Probably not.

After the fact, it’s in our nature to seek ways to prevent atrocities like the Virginia Tech shooting from repeating.

In this case, it’s especially tempting to call for stricter gun control.

Personally, I don’t think we need any more guns in this country, but if somehow, magically, all the guns were gone tomorrow, I can pretty much guarantee you people would find a different way to kill one another.

Violence is a mindset; it doesn’t go away because you confiscate one or 100 or 100,000 handguns.

Absolutely, had Cho not had a handgun, he couldn’t have killed as many people in such a short time, but it’s the deranged mindset of a mass murderer we have to learn to recognize and confront if we want to prevent another school shooting.

News reports indicated that some of Cho’s writing and behavior was disturbing enough that he had been referred to on-campus counseling.

That’s of course no consolation at all to the families of his victims, but it’s a tiny, tiny indication that it is possible to find people like Cho before they snap.

Let’s not suffer from a lack of imagination – let’s be vigilant; let’s not be afraid to speak up if we think something is wrong. Then maybe, just maybe, we can prevent this from happening again.


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