Schools and houses of worship are two of the most revered places in our society. They are also among the most vulnerable since—unlike many places of business, transportation centers and the like—they’ve generally lacked guards and security. That’s changing for schools, and sadly now, for places of worship.
Yes, there’ve been other shootings and bombings at sacred places (to show the range, Charleston, SC in 2015; Birmingham, AL in 1963). But there’ve rarely been calls for armed protection for temples, churches, mosques and other holy places, especially from a sitting president.
Witnesses claim the suspect—a known online anti-semite, Robert Bowers—burst into a synagogue in suburban Pittsburgh this morning and opened fire with an assault rifle. He killed 11 adults and wounded six , four of them police officers responding to the gunfire.
The bullying connection
This Tree of Life synagogue mass murder comes on the heels of a mass mail-bombing effort this week on the part of another alleged hate-monger, Cesar Sayoc. For that reason, it seems appropriate to tap into the wisdom of the co-authors of The Bullying Antidote. They’ve written about the role bullying plays in a variety of social problems facing America and other societies, including school shootings.
Undoubtedly, investigators and journalists will soon discover one or both of this week’s bad guys will have a bullying connection. As offenders most likely, as victims, or as both.
Murdered at school: the bullying connection.
How our high rates of gun violence are connected to bullying.
Twenty or thirty years ago, news of a crowd shooting at a school or post office would shock the nation. Today, gun rampages are more frequent in many environments, from workplaces to military bases; from tollbooths to beauty parlors. The worst ones, the ones that shock us the most, are in schools—colleges, high schools, even elementary and pre-schools. And yet, this is a rampant social disease unique to America. In 2018 we averaged school shooting per week, making this phenomenon 57 times more prevalent here than in all other first-world countries, combined.*
The bullying connection.
Every single crowd shooter has a reason they do what they do, beyond the fact that they can get their hands on a gun. Crowd shooters see themselves as being victims: of politics, of failed relationships, of bullying.
Jessie Klein, author of The Bully Society, makes the argument that school shootings are the consequences of a society that actually promotes aggressive and competitive behavior. Kids learn that bullying is not an occasional occurrence but an everyday reality where sensitivity, kindness, and respect do not get them what they want. Klein compiled incidents of school shootings since 1979 that include the stated reasons. A great percentage of the shooters complained about threats to their masculinity. Research in this vein showing the social alienation and lack of love in the lives of these shooters has led to the twisted media concept that women are responsible.
This tradition of revenge for perceived insults and threats, which we see all over America, and indeed all over the world, unofficially states that a slight to any member of the clan must be avenged. This is the cultural mechanism of machismo, or the “Culture of Honor,” a societal concept that, at its extreme, supports the perpetrator’s reasoning that it is culturally acceptable—and expected—to open fire at a funeral, drive through a neighborhood shooting out a window or, in other countries, to throw acid in his sister’s face.
Ever since the Columbine High School Massacre in 1999, solutions have been sought, and many are readily available. After that national crisis, Community Matters studied, discovered, and promoted ways to change the bullying dyamics that create these crises. Their Safe School Ambassadors program created the concept of turning “innocent bystanders” into “upstanders.” Schools that focus on creating a culture of respect empower all students to protect one another from bullying, consciously creating high levels of emotional safety, empathy, and connection.”
All of the horrific events of this past week show that we Americans must remember that we are bound together by the human condition.
There is no room for bullying, hatred or bigotry here. There is more that unites us than divides us. Go here for ways to help out.
What do you think? Does bullying beget murder in prayer, murder in school?
An adapted excerpt from Chapter 1 of a positive parenting guide, The Bullying Antidote,“ an in-depth trove of easy-to-implement strategies in abuse prevention” that “triumphs as an in-depth guide to the troubling world of bullying” (quotes by readers). Louise Hart Ed.D. (www.drlouisehart.com) is also the author of The Winning Family and On the Wings of Self-Esteem with co-author Kristen Caven (www.kristencaven.com). Learn more about bullying by perusing and subscribing to The Zorgos Reader: zorgos.wordpress.com.
To learn about CLEFT HEART: Chasing Normal, click the Amazon or Barnes & Noble buttons in the margins. Or click the image of the book cover. My coming-of-age memoir has intertwining love stories, mystery, tragedy, and triumph.