This time last year I learned that friends of a friend, the Márquez-Greenes, had lost their beautiful daughter at Newtown. This morning, I read their incredible story of compassion and grace in creating the Ana Grace Project whose mission is promoting love, connection, and community for every child and family. They recently hosted a seminar “aimed at building community, connections and compassion” which are the qualities that are “the antidote to the kind of isolation that always seems to be the story of deranged mass shooters.”
I am drawn to their story, because I believe Ms. Márquez-Greene’s approach of compassion and connection is so much more powerful than any arguments I’ve heard about gun control, anti-bullying, or any other misguided attempts at stemming the increasing tide of disconnection and violence in this country. I’m guessing lumping anti-gun, anti-bullying attempts together as misguided will draw the ire of many, but you read that correctly. As a mother of kids who have both bullied and been bullied, I can say that kids bully for a reason. They bully because they’ve been bullied by adults, because they’ve been damaged through abuse or trauma, they don’t have appropriate boundaries at home, because they’re mentally ill, or all of the above. The anti-bullying efforts in our community appear to make things worse by labeling those kids as “bad,” punishing them, and further marginalizing them, at a time when their actions demonstrate that they need our help, not punishment. What is the end result of these strategies? Should we create a island where we put all the bullies, like the Island of Misfit Toys, where they can all be bullies together and not sully our non-bully kids? It doesn’t work that way. The world is not that black and white.
Last year, one of the ways that my kids’ grade school counselor attempted to deal with a bullying situation was to guide the bullied 4th grade child to attempt to friend his bully. That’s the strategy we take in our house, and it’s been successful a majority of times. Unfortunately, the counselor’s guidance resulted in a rambling midnight e-mail from the boys’ mother to all of the 4th grade parents explaining how ludicrous this advice was, advising us that the school wasn’t taking the bullying seriously, that she was removing her child from the district, and that she was sure the bully was working up to a rampage.
Last year my oldest daughter was the subject of extraordinary bullying that I won’t even describe here, because it was so awful. She reached out for help to school administration, who did nothing. (They didn’t get it, they were overwhelmed, they’re not trauma-informed, they dropped the ball, etc.). She and her two best friends took things into their own hands and came up with a fairly effective vengeance campaign, which I then got a phone call about, because my daughter was then accused of bullying. No one connected the dots. My daughter hadn’t been forthcoming with me, which is part of her Reactive Attachment Disorder diagnosis (she’s absurdly self-reliant, and had already been ignored by one adult). She was getting consequences at home and at school, the pressure was too much, and she ended up setting our house on fire and being committed to inpatient care that same day. It was only through intensive family therapy that I connected the dots and understood what had happened. So, how successful was that? Wouldn’t we all have been better off if someone asked the question “Why is this kid who was getting As and fabulous reviews from her teachers 2 months ago now spinning out of control?” Wouldn’t it have been even better if someone had asked why my daughter’s bully was bullying in the first place? The kid’s dad was in Afghanistan, and she was dealing with other issues at home, but that question was never asked.
Mr. Lanza used in the Newtown tragedy were legally purchased. I can’t imagine what reasonable restrictions might have been put into place to prevent his mother buying them. I realize the urge to quickly label the Newtown massacre as a gun issue is appealing, but Newtown wasn’t about guns – it was about mental illness and this country’s failure to care for its mentally ill.