Twenty years ago this Saturday, a horrific attack at Columbine High School filled the news.
The effects of that day are ongoing. Not only did it inspire the Immediate Action Rapid Deployment tactic and necessitate a need for tighter school security, but it sparked ongoing conversations and debates about mental health and gun control. These have continued throughout the past 20 years and are revisited after each new devastating shooting.
Two decades is a significant amount of time, but for those who were there on that infamous day, the memories and feelings are just as fresh. Those who were students at Columbine in 1999 are now well into adulthood, many with children of their own. Leading up to the 20th anniversary, they spoke with news outlets about how, even now, the memories will come flooding back. Many spoke specifically of the PTSD they experience and how hearing their children talk about lockdown drills causes them anxiety and fear.
Many of the questions the shooting sparked remain as complex as ever. How can such devastating events be prevented? What can be done to prevent more children from growing up and being haunted by such traumatic memories?
Answers are varied. Calls for gun control and a better understanding of mental health concerns are the loudest, but there are also demands for restrictions on social media, television, music and violent video games. All these solutions focus on controlling behavior.
Behavior-focused solutions get involved only after the underlying issues have already matured. Focusing on cultivating values, on the other hand, could be the best way to change behavior. Creating consequences for abuses and corruption is necessary, but those incidents will not lessen unless values are instilled early on.
Coach Dave Sanders, the only teacher to die at the Columbine shooting, may have been highly trained or instructed about what to do in an active shooter situation, but what actually compelled him to put himself in harm’s way? His genuine love, care and concern for others. Sanders’ values — his "why" — is what motivated his behavior. No amount of behavior training can instill those values.
When strong values are absent, legislation will not deter or prevent bad behavior. When values are present, those laws and legislation come naturally and act only to strengthen and add security to a nation.
This week highlighted the frailty of a behavior-oriented focus. More than a dozen schools in the Denver area were placed on lockdown Tuesday after news that 18-year-old Sol Pais had flown to Colorado and purchased a pump-action shotgun. Pais was known by authorities for having an infatuation with Columbine, even keeping an online journal that alluded to her own “plans” she was making.
Authorities and the country at large rightly viewed Pais as a threat. Then investigators found her dead of a self-inflicted wound, and the mood changed to pity. Her behavior was a symptom of greater problems. Here was a teenager who, it appears from her journal, suffered from suicidal thoughts and other issues. Regulating her behavior came too late, when the values of compassion and taking care of one’s mental health may have made a difference.
In raising the next generation, survivors of the Columbine shooting have the chance to instill values that will lead to good behaviors and decisions. These brave parents, who were once brave students, can raise valiant and strong children who will make the world better.
The nation should follow suit. Hope for a brighter, safer future will come from parents, children, friends and neighbors who have the courage to teach and live a values-oriented life.