I am an NIU grad, class of ’94, and I’m drained. I’m drained from the most recent campus shooting–this time at my school; I’m drained from feeling helpless to do anything; I’m drained from feeling sad that what should be the best times in young peoples’ lives is tainted by the dark cloud of a potential shooting–it menacingly hangs over every college and high school. And I’m drained from watching the dragnet searching for blame and speculation that is always cast out into society when a shooting occurs.

Jack Thompson blames video games. (I don’t know who this guy is but as far as I know, there has been no evidence that Steven Kazmierczak, the shooter at NIU, played video games.) In a Chicago Tribune survey by Eric Zorn that asked readers to offer reasons for these shootings, one reader stated all acts of violence are done “by children or grandchildren of the 60’s generation.” Another blamed legal abortion because it sends a message that death is okay. Another blamed all increase in violence on the Internet. Another blamed discrimination and people being picked on by others. Finally, one blamed American men and asked, “What is wrong with American men?” Experts and part of the public blame guns, as well as the ease with which one can purchase illegal firearms. Other experts and a different cross-section of the public cite the inability of people to carry their own concealed firearms as the cause. Some blame mental illness.

Let’s actually look for the potential cause; the common-denominators in all these shootings, shall we? Instead of just pulling stuff out of our asses. What do all these shooters have in common? They are not all mentally ill. They have not all been picked on or discriminated against. They did not all buy their guns illegally. They are not all men. Hm. Must be something else. What? What do the shooters have in common? Three things: they are unhappy, they blame other people for their unhappiness, and they don’t know how to express themselves properly within acceptable social norms. Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. Where are they learning these traits? Um, from society, schools, and parents.

We live in a culture that tells people if you’re are unhappy, it is someone else’s fault, not your own. If you’re fat, it’s the fault of fast food restaurants; better outlaw trans fat. Over 24,000 Patriots fans have signed a petition asking the NFL to review the Superbowl because they claim the clock should have ran out before the Giants scored the final touchdown. It’s not Belichick’s poor coaching (going for it on 4 & 13 instead of kicking a field goal and airing the ball out four times with 3 timeouts and 30 seconds left on the clock) or the Giants good play that won the game; it’s not the Patriots fault they lost, it’s the guy who runs the clock who cost them the game. If you don’t win the Presidential election, the other guy clearly cheated (forget that if you had just won your home state you would have won–I voted for Gore, so shut up). Remember, whatever we do, whatever we say, little ears are always listening. Little minds are always taking it in and forming personalities and rationale with the information.

We have created a culture of blame and selfishness for our children. Dodgeball, kickball, and tag have been outlawed in some schools because some kids aren’t as fast as others or get picked last, so it’s unfair. (I was bad at physics and chemistry; other kids were quite good. Shouldn’t those courses have been outlawed to keep things fair?) About ten years ago at Regina Dominican High School in Wilmette, Illinois—an all-girl prep school—a student council member mooned cars from inside a school bus on a field trip. The school kicked her off the council and suspended her. Her father, an attorney, threatened to sue and she was reinstated both in school and to the council. I worked for four years at the Latin School of Chicago, a prestigious K-12 prep school. I protected kids from strangers during recess in a public park and directed traffic after school. The school has a rule that you have to let every child play in your game at recess if they want, no matter how that child behaves. I watched kids try to play football, soccer, catch, and so forth, only to have one trouble-maker constantly take the ball and run away with it or kick the football whenever it was put down for the next play. Kids had to spend lots of their valuable recess minutes repeatedly chasing one kid. When they complained, they were reminded they had to let that kid play, that was the rule. If kids were picked on, teachers immediately interfered. During traffic, some parents and some neighbors would park their cars in the middle of the street, park on sidewalks, run the stop sign, curse at me when I made them follow the rules and be safe, and even complain to the school that I did not let them park wherever they wanted for however long they wished.

What message are we sending our kids? That they should not have to learn to live within the rules of their community; rather, their community should bend to their wills or whims. If they are unhappy, it is the community’s fault. If you’re not fast or athletic, don’t work to get better or find a different game to play; no, just make everyone else stop playing the game they love. If you make a mistake, you shouldn’t be held responsible; no, the community should be held responsible. Our children aren’t learning how to interact or socialize in a real-world format.

Simultaneously, we teach instant gratification and unrealistic expectations. Many schools hold contests in which every entrant wins. You may not be the best but you might be the most improved or the most creative; they make up all kinds of awards to be certain every child receives one. Everyone is an overnight success. Dane Cook, for example. In reality, Dane Cook has been a standup for years and invested his life savings into his website before the Internet was big. He took risk and worked hard to become an “overnight success.” We buy and push self-help books that promise us The Secret or how to work just four hours a week. My book God is a Woman: Dating Disasters is a book of my funny misadventures with women as a touring comedian. I wrote it while working at Latin (that’s called paying your dues, another reality of life kids aren’t learning), and added dating advice after each story because there are so many bogus dating advice books out there, someone needed to take a stand. They preach manipulation, telling you how to change your guy if you’re not happy (because your unhappiness is clearly his fault), or promising you they can get you into any woman’s panties, no matter how you look, what you earn, or no matter how big an ass you are. I felt it was high time someone gave some good advice: your happiness is your responsibility, no one else’s, and you can have all the things these books promise precisely as they promise, but not by practicing their advice.

Suddenly, kids hit high school and college. The rules of real-life apply, not the bs ones that have been socially crippling their characters for years. They find themselves unprotected and without a parachute for the first time (that’s the only real “overnight” event in life). How do they react? What should they do or say? They’ve never dealt with disappointment. They’ve never had to work out problems, let alone their own problems. They’re unprepared, making them far more likely to snap when they aren’t instantly gratified and far more likely to feel overwhelmed. It’s only natural they blame other people for their unhappiness; that’s what they’ve been taught and it’s totally acceptable.

Is this why there’s been such an increase in shootings? I can’t say for sure but it seems very likely and reasonable. Teens and young adults aren’t just expressing unhappiness via shootings; other crimes, drug use, and violence are all up, and most likely related to the same cultural cause. Perhaps we should be studying these factors and looking for real causes and solutions to the problem, instead of just randomly picking things out of thin air. Who is to blame for our culture and children’s behavior? Aside from them, that’s easy to answer, just look in the mirror. We’re to blame; we are society. The day you start buying and pushing books that tell you how to be successful by working hard and smart, is the day you can point the finger. Until then, put it in your pocket, swallow hard, and blame yourself.

You may donate to the NIU February 14th fund here: https://webcluster.niu.edu/CreditCard/fdn2_step1.html

I am donating all my proceeds as an author from now through the end of March (a dollar a book) to the fund. Several of the stories take place at NIU and I hope they will serve to paint a more accurate, welcoming picture of the school and its true nature. Also, fifty percent of sales of any of the other products on my site will go to the fund until the end of March, as well. I don’t have money in hand to donate, so this is a good way for me to do it. I commend NIU and DeKalb for their quick response and warnings to students. I am only sorry that they ever had to implement their prearranged strategies and pray they never have to again. Condolences to all those involved and their families.        

 

 

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