The Lesson; All Beings Are a Beautiful Bundle of Love


copyright © 2008 Betsy L. Angert

The day was delightful.  The water was superb.  The sun was full and bright.  A few billowy, puffy clouds floated through the sky.  They were white, cumulus, fluffy fellows, the type that excite many a child as they gaze into the heavens.  In parks, on lawns, little ones were likely looking up and pointing.  “Look,” they might say,  “It is a horse, a donkey, or perchance a unicorn.”  It was a day for whimsy.  The children, playful in the pool, barely noticed the graceful shapes as they danced above their heads.  Instead, they were focused on what they decided were June bugs.

Three young sweet girls stood in the warm water near their Daddy.  All were calm, content, and serene.  The sisters chatted easily.  Father smiled.  The youngest lass expressed her curiosity.  As her sibling searched for bugs on the plastic rope line, the “baby” in the family asked of the insects.  “Are they icky to touch,” the cautious curly haired youngster inquired.  The more confident elder sister said, “No!  They are cute,” she said.  See.”  The “older” child showed the girl of fewer years.

A stranger, in the adjacent lane was preparing to swim.  Becky was her name.  She was much older than the children, and perhaps no wiser; nonetheless, she share her assessment of the beetle.  Becky said of the six-legged lovelies, “They are life; all creatures are beautiful.”  With that thought, the father beamed, and the older lady plunged head first into the water filled cement reservoir.

Lap after lap and look after look the woman and children enjoyed the quiet of the day.  The words the swimmer shared seemed to hang in the air.  People came and went, throughout the afternoon, and splendor was all anyone saw.

Then, everything changed.  The evolution from tranquil to trauma was  slow; nonetheless, unexpected.  Those in the recreation park were struck, as if by a bolt of lightening.  However, unlike when a storm threatens, swimmers were not forced to leave the pool.  The jolt evoked more silence.  No one screamed, but the sole boy, victim to the method his Mom’s adopted for instruction.

The young mother, a woman, perhaps, in her early thirties, was extremely pleasant in appearance, and it seemed her personality was equally delightful.  She, Madison, entered the deck area with her small son in her arms.  Skin, beautifully tanned, this well-dress lady strode to the lifeguard tower.  The little guy, let us call him, Michael, was not as bronze in color, and was visibly agitated.  Michael whimpered, even as his Mom held him close.  

Becky, the swimmer who enjoyed the company of the little lasses and their Dad before she began her exercise had just finished the more strenuous part of her routine when the mother and child came into view.  Becky, a teacher, enjoyed children, in or outside the classroom.  She marveled at the openness of a mind not yet crushed by the weight of worry.  The sincerity of a small one was a source of fascination for Becky.  Children, early in life, were candid and joyous, at least most were, or appeared to be.

Little Michael, a lad, maybe three, or four, was not a cheerful child.  He wore no glee on his face, although his features were cute as could be from what Becky was able to see.  When the swimmer first noticed Madison and Michael, they were yards away.  They approached the guard tower at the opposite end of the pool and spoke with Brianna, the young adult hired to protect the public in an emergency.  Becky thought nothing of the interaction.  She was relieved to have only her stretches left to complete.  Becky moved the shallow end and commenced with another ritual.

Behind her, a metal chair scraped along the concrete.  The sound startled her and she looked up at the area where people sat enjoying the sun.  Had Becky waited just a moment she would have known Michael and Madison had moved closer to her.  The cries filled the air.  The sweet little boy shrieked, “I wanna go see Daddy.”  Michael howled; “No Mom!!!!  No!”  His face scrunched tightly, this little lovable fellow yelled, “Daddy!  Daddy!  Daddy!  Please Mom!  No!”  Michael repeated the words, “I wanna go see Daddy!”

His mother chided him, gently.  “We have to do this.”  Madison did not seem to believe she could quiet her son’s fears.  An expectation that the little guy might enjoy was void from her voice.  The Mom simply worked feverishly, to accomplish the dreaded task.  She prepared Michael for his dip in the water, and said, “Let’s just get this over with.”

Becky continued with her work out and wondered of the circumstances.  Perchance, the mother and father were divorced or newly separated.  Michael may have expressed the deep distress he felt for a family no longer united.  Becky, the daughter of parents who parted understood how stressful such a situation might be.  She was eight when  . . . her reverie was interrupted.

Madison had abruptly carried Michael to the step at the shallow end of the pool.  The Mom now wore a white shirt over her own bathing suit.  Sweetly, she smiled and leaned forward.  Madison said to Becky, “I do not wish to disturb you.  I want to warn you; I am teaching my son to swim and he screams, loudly.”  As an experienced educator, Becky imagined it would be a mild and momentary shout.  As one who swims daily and had for well over a decade, the teacher witnessed many a young child learn to paddle and breathe in water.  

Indeed, at this very facility she has observed perhaps hundreds of child learn to master their strokes.  The excellent swim teachers, parents and paid professionals, helped calm many a neophyte nerve.  Often Becky watched with admiration as patient Moms, Dads, and lifeguards helped little ones wade through the water.  It was as she shared with the girls earlier in the day, “They, people and insects, are life.  All creatures are beautiful.”

What Becky witnessed next was not beautiful; it was brutal!  Madison held Michaels arms tightly.  She forced him into the water.  The Mom insisted the boy’s head remain face down immersed until she pulled him up.  Apparently, they had practiced this cycle before.  Becky now understood why Michael cringed and cried out long before he was ever near the expansive liquid sea.

Initially, the trained instructor was paralyzed.  Becky could not imagine that a mother might torment her child.  The volume of Michaels screams increased.  His little arms flailed.  “Mom, No!  Pleassssssssse!”  The emotional agony he felt was palpable.  Mom did not stop as he pleaded.  The pain on his face did not move Madison to succumb.  His words, his anguish, nothing stopped this mother on her quest.  For Becky, what must have been a minute or less seemed like hours, years, decades.  She thought of sweet obedient Michael.  While he shed many a tear and shrieked when he could gasp for air, the little love did as he was told or required to do.  He dropped his head into the pool on demand.

Off into the distance, in the parking lot, just outside the fence, Becky noticed a late model shiny black vehicle.  The man at the wheel peered in.  His car was not situated in a space meant for stopping.  This fellow seemed interested in the antics of Madison and Michael.  Becky mused; possibly the sound of suffering haunted him as it did her.  She could not stand by a moment longer.

With an earnest concern, Becky expressed her empathy for the child.  She inquired; “Is he frightened..”  The mother responded, “He can swim.”  Becky queried aloud, had the mother sought other means for instruction.  Perchance, if Michael were given the opportunity to slowly adjust to the water.  If he were allowed to breathe easily as he slowly learned to stoke . . . Becky’s words were cut off.  Still somewhat genteel and reserved, Madison explained, “This is what his teacher taught me to do.”  “She is excellent.  Everyone goes to her.  They call her the swim Nazi.”

The practiced swimmer, and professional educator, shared her own expertise.  Becky told of a time when she worked with another teacher who was extremely punitive.  This castigatory colleague was an award winner.  Some children loved her, parents too.  Students taught Becky what she had not known; if you are raised in a family where cruelty is common, you learn to believe that rough treatment is love.  Violence is fondness when a family is familiar with vicious behavior.

Becky spoke of a man she loves.  He was introduced to swimming in much the way Michael was guided.  This man loathes his parents.  As an adult, he says of himself, he is really messed up.  For the man Becky cares for, trust is not an option.  The lesson he learned at the hands of his mother, who taught him how to swim, just as Madison now advised Michael, is that people will hurt you.

In this very short and quick conversation Becky, recalled her own memories, and how she has vivid recollections of events in that occurred in her life when she was younger than Michael.  Becky looked over at Michael’s face.  The torment was already etched into his skin.  The screeches scarred him.

Madison listened, maybe.  She was polite.  The Mom never let go of her cherished son, Michael.  The activity did not stop.  Nor did the blood curdling screams.  The echoes of pain continued to pierce the air, and break delicate decorum.  

People within the recreation center while startled, they stood still or pretended to ignore what escaped no one.  Only Becky articulated her concern.  Madison expressed her interest; more so once she realized Becky is an educator.  However, without a moment of hesitation, or a break from or for Michael, she offered a retort.  “I will speak with the teacher.”  Becky again offered, the teacher does what she thinks is best.  Perhaps, she, just as the pupils Becky spoke of, had parents who were as aggressive as she was.  

Those who admire the techniques the Nazi swim teacher endorses may also be intimately acquainted with instruction through intimidation.  “In my family no one yells,” Becky said.  Madison responded; the same was true in her life.  She and her husband do not scream.

Michael continues to squeal.  “Mom, Please, No!”  He thrashes.  He grabs for her mother.  Michael reaches for Madison’s shirt and slaps her body and face.  The Mom had mentioned she wore the blouse just for this purpose.  Michael grabbed at the swim instructor, just as prescribed, and when with her, Michael clawed for Madison’s clothing.

His moves do not seem to suggest an intention to hurt the mother Michael loves.  From appearances, the boy only hopes to find a source of solace.  He wants to hold on to someone, anyone.  His words seem to express a desire that his Mom will save him from her.  The child cries out again and again.  He flaps; he flounders.  Little lovable Michael thrashes and struggles.  Madison was not discouraged.

Still alert and attentive to her purpose, Madison proclaims, “The swim teacher has them trained within a week.”  Once more, she says, “Everyone goes to her.”  She may have sensed or seen Becky’s alarm.  Apprehensive, the mother said, “I will speak to my husband.  He is in the car.”  

Becky realized the man who she had observed earlier might have studied the pair with an interest that could not be described.  Possibly, what the father felt was beyond words.  Becky knew that emotionally, this event tugged at her heartstrings.  She wondered; did the Dad wait for he too could not endure the misery inflicted on his son.  How could a mother be so cruel?  How could anyone treat a child with such contempt?  Why were words of compassion and caution not enough to stop the abuse?  Was Becky alone in her anguish?

She exited the pool area, entered the locker room.  Then she scrubbed herself in the shower.  All the while Becky heard the howls and the hollers.  This small sorrowful soul did not rant or rage against his Mom.  He only called out for help.  Each shout sliced the air and sent chills up Becky’s spine.  She could hardly contain her own tears.

Becky left the building and again approached Madison, whose energy and purpose had not waned.  The worried woman spoke, “If I could I would like to inquire; would it not be better if Michael loved his lessons (and the person who teaches him)?”  Did she share the latter thought?  She was so troubled, she did not know what she said.  Had she asked if it was necessary to master the skill in a week?  Madison ignored Becky.  She was done with this exchange.  She said to Michael, “Just a few more minutes.”

Defeated, Becky left the deck.  She walked to the office where the guards stood in alert.  The group discussed what left each of them distraught.  A resigned Brianna verbalized her belief, “There is nothing we can do or say.”  Shocked to discover Becky spoke to the woman, Brianna began to ask of what was said.  Then she realized Madison, with a drained and strained Michael in her arms, was near.  She let out a sound that signaled the need for silence.

The mother and her madness quickly fled the premises.  After a short discussion with the guards, Becky thanked them for listening to her fears and followed the path from the pool to the parking lot.  Apparently, the couple and their child were settling into the coupe.  The father glanced over as he saw Becky near the vehicle.  Nothing was said.  For Becky, there were no words.

She pondered.  Was Becky the person now considered a predator?  Had Madison grumbled to her husband as she shared details of the encounter?  Exhausted and uncertain of the empathy she had supposed all beings had for others, Becky went to her car.  She could not drive away, although she saw the family did.  The lover of living beings, of children, could not fully understand what existed only for moments in her own life.  She was haunted by the hurt she saw in Michael’s face and heard in his calls.

Stunned and shaken Becky sat trembling for a very long time.  She wailed; she wept.  Had she just let a sweet child fend for himself in a world too awful to survive?  

Hours passed and Becky imagines, in her life, Michael, and the impression he made on her would never move on.  Sadly, she fears, what for her was but minutes, for Michael, will be life.

Becky had mentioned to Madison, or hoped she had, the effect of trauma.  To this day, the older educator recounts the stresses that transformed her being.  The lessons, what her Mom, Dad, and mentors did supposedly for her benefit, if not facilitated fondly, harmed her deeply.  Cognizant that children absorb all they encounter and are affected by every exchange, Becky contemplates the drama Michael endured.

In a desire to calm her self, Becky, an educator who loves to learn, sought answers.  She had so many questions, so many concerns.  As a teacher, never labeled a dictatorial tyrant, she had much trepidation.  What had Madison taught Michael?  Was he expected to sink or swim?  As she read, her angst increased.  What would become of Michael?

How Do You Recognize a Patient (or Person) with Trauma if it is Not Always Obvious?

Different people respond differently to traumatic events.  Some people will carry it around in ways that everybody can see that they’ve been impacted.  But most people actually will go through a traumatic experience and won’t have any easily visible or obvious manifestation of that.  The problems may emerge many months or sometimes even years after the original event.  So it’s very important for people who are trying to understand trauma to become aware of the various ways in which traumatic symptoms can manifest, the various ways in which trauma can be carried forward by children and adults, and the pervasive impact that trauma has independent of the way someone is observed to perform.

How Do Relationships Affect the Way the Brain Develops?

Human beings are at our core, relational creatures.  We are designed to live, work, play, and grow in groups.  The very nature of humanity arises from relationships.  You learn language, you learn social language, you learn appropriate emotional regulation, and essentially everything that’s important about life as a human being you learn in context of relationships.  And the very substance of a successful individual is bathed in a whole host of relationships with people in that person’s life  . . .

Can You Continue with the Relationships and How it Affects the Brain

When you look at someone, when you hear someone, when you have a conversation, when you make a joke with somebody, when you touch someone, every single one of those physical interactions are translated into patterned neuronal activity that go into the brain of both people in that interaction and result in positive changes.  These physical changes influence our immune system and they influence the autonomic nervous system that controls your heart and your lungs and your gut.  Literally, when people have a wealth of relationships, where relationships are present in high quantities and they’re of good quality, these individuals are actually physically healthier, they’re emotionally healthier, they’re more cognitively enriched, and they actually reach their potential to be humane in ways that are impossible without relationships.

It’s a very interesting thing that people don’t really appreciate this very much, but that there’s no better biological interaction that you can have than a relationship.

Yes, all beings are but a beautiful bundle of love.  Yet, rarely do humans honor that veracity.  So few people understand the depth of each interaction.  Too frequently, individuals do what was done to them, or what they think they can.  Societal standards, customs, traditions, the lessons taught by authoritarian teachers shape them.  People learn.  Yet, they may not have studied the ultimate lesson.  We are each a lovely and fragile beings.  We grow well when hearts, minds, bodies, and souls are tenderly touched.

“Michael, I am soooooooo sorry,” Becky mused.  What of the relationship she had with Michael, or for that matter, with all beings.  What affect did her actions or inactions have.  Becky though of how all that occurred developed, and how Michael might grow.  “If only I had done more, been more, were a better teacher to your Mom, or had offered to help you learn to swim.”  Becky, heart heavy with regret promised herself, if she were to meet this family again, she would . . . in truth, she did not know what she could or would do.  She only hoped that someone would tell her.  How does one swim in a world where too many forget, all beings are but a bundle of love.

Sources and Suffering . . .

Homage to Lawrence King. Teach Tolerance To Adults and Children

Love Not Hate

copyright © 2008 Betsy L. Angert

“The opposite of love is not hate; it’s indifference.

The opposite of art is not ugliness; it’s indifference.

The opposite of faith is not heresy; it’s indifference.

And the opposite of life is not death; it’s indifference.”

~ Elie Wiesel

It was February 14, 2008, Valentine’s Day.  Love was in the air.  However, the expressions of appreciation offered were mournful.  Doctors informed the family and his friends, Lawrence King, 15, was removed from life support.  Two days earlier, young Larry was in the computer lab at E. O. Green Junior High in Oxnard, California.  He sat with 24 other students when Brandon McInerney walked into the room with a gun.  The armed classmate, fourteen-years of age, approached Lawrence with intent.  Brandon aimed his weapon, pulled the trigger, and shot Lawrence in the head.  Without hesitation, the shooter ran from the building.  Circumstances led observers and police officers to conclude the act was intentional, calculated, and a conscious choice.  Brandon committed what is commonly defined as a “hate crime.”

Students were locked in classrooms.  Grief and disbelief filled the air.  Adults tried to calm the children.  Teens tried to cope.  Peers were befuddled.  Pupils sought information and shared what they knew.  After the event, fingers flew across cellular telephone keypads.  Text messages were sent and received from schoolroom to schoolroom.  The words were, “Brandon McInerney did the deed.”  ‘Not Brandon McInerney, No way.’

“Brandon wouldn’t do this,” eighth-grader Jessica Lee remembers thinking. “He’s a good kid. It can’t be Brandon.”

But some at the Oxnard junior high school had seen Larry, 15, teased by students in the weeks before the shooting for being gay and wearing high-heeled boots and makeup. Some witnessed confrontations between Larry and Brandon, with Larry teasing Brandon and saying he liked him.

Family members and friends described Larry as a sweet, artistic boy who loved to sing and didn’t understand why people reacted negatively to him.

Brandon, 14, a tall, athletic eighth-grader, was described by friends and acquaintances as a mellow, focused kid, but one who wouldn’t back down in a confrontation.

Brandon had learned his lessons well.  He learned to feel deeply.  Indifference was not part of his repertoire, intolerance was.  Perhaps from within the womb, he began his education.  Those who in an act of love came together to give birth to Brandon, apparently knew nothing more than volatile loathing.  Perchance, Brandon’s mother, Kendra and his father, William were raised to love or hate, but not tolerate.

We can be certain that baby Brandon did as all infants do  after birth, he absorbed all the messages that surrounded him. .  Education is not an isolated entity.  Knowledge is not gained only in a classroom.  Our first school is called home.  Structured lessons may inform us; however, these are never internalized as deeply as the wisdom we acquire at the knees of our Mom and Dad.  Parents have a profound influence on a child.  Those we love most have the power to teach us more.  Definitely, the occurrence taught Brandon what to do when he felt troubled.

Kendra McInerney, Brandon’s mother, claimed a night of partying in 1993 ended in a fight and William shooting her in the elbow, breaking it in several places, according to court records. Still, they married later that year, and Brandon was born in January 1994.

The fighting didn’t stop, and sometimes it was witnessed by Brandon and his two older half-brothers, according to court records. In 2000, William pleaded no contest to a domestic battery charge against Kendra. He was sentenced to 10 days in jail and ordered to attend domestic violence classes. The couple separated in August 2000.

Love, or familiarity can breed contempt.  Even when someone no longer shares a physical space with the person that causes him or her distress that individual remains intimately connected in the heart.  Parting is not a sweet sorrow.  Indeed, it is often the source of more pain.  Indifference is rarely evident once an emotional bond is formed.  

For Kendra and William McInerney, separation did nothing to alleviate the angst they felt or expressed. , Nor, did living apart make life more livable for  the children.  Drinking, drugs, and violence were daily transgressions in Brandon’s life.  The stories are stark.  Yet, fortunately, it appeared Brandon survived.  Indeed, some would say he thrived.

Through all the family turmoil, Brandon got involved in activities outside the home, including martial arts and lifeguard training. He seemed to want something more than just the status quo of Silver Strand, Crave said.

“He didn’t want to be involved in that whole thing,” Crave said, gesturing at friends drinking a few beers nearby after getting off work.

Brandon joined the Young Marines – the Marine Corps’ equivalent of a JROTC program – several years ago and became a leader in the group, which disbanded last summer.

“Brandon was a young man that I would never have figured something like this would happen to,” said Mel Otte, his commanding officer.

Otte said he never witnessed Brandon showing a short temper and that he would have been kicked out of the group if he had bullied other kids.

“He was an outstanding young man,” Otte said.  “What happened since I left, I have no idea.”

What occurred did not take place in a instant.  The image of restraint did not transcend an earlier reality.  Change did not come on in a flash.  Often calm is a facade for the chaos that lay beneath the surface of a boy [girl, woman, or man] who battles emotional upheavals.  What was real for Brandon is true for each of us.  We learn and live what we believe is customary.  

Even those of us who “know better,” or are exposed to impressive amounts of information, organized to challenge unhealthy conventions, do as we have seen done, or was done to us.  Some escape the affects of sensory overload for a time.  Few abandon family traditions until long they have repeatedly fallen from grace.  Only an individual forced to face his or her “demons” day in and day out thinks to learn new habits.  

We all love easily.  We loathe with less effort.  What we do not do well is authentically accept others.  Few beings bother to have compassion, to learn from those who look, think, feel, or act differently.  Without empathy, everyone is a possible enemy.

Hate, or fear, of what we do not understand, motivates many a mind to react aggressively.  Apprehension and anxiety are not logical.  None of our emotions are.  Nevertheless, all too often humans, prideful of an intellectual capacity, are galvanized by feelings.  We are threatened by what we feel terrorizes us.  

For Brandon it was a boy who thought him fine.  For adults it may be a secret admirer, or an individual who has authority over us.   The neighbor who was unkind could seem a danger.  Mature men or women may believe the man in the automobile in front of them is a menace.  Even a small girl, on the corner, with her fingers out-stretched in a sign of peace could seem a hazard if our habit is to adopt an angry stance when we feel annoyed.  

People are familiar with what deeply disturbs them.  They know all too well how to demonstrate love and hate. Indifference is doable, as long as an n individual does not see or hear those outside their sphere.  Benevolence, perhaps that is the reaction, the action we do not learn from birth.

We all crave a connection.  Humans have needs.  Individuals long to be included, intimately involved; we wish to feel as though we have the right and power to make decisions for ourselves.  Men, women, and children are not indifferent.  Hence the dilemma.

When it seems we are unable to manage our world, humans freak.  Each of us responds differently, understandably.  Intellectually, people may recognize they cannot control the universe.  However, when stressed, we discover the habits we hold dear remain intact.  Our reactions are not innate, just well studied.  Brandon McInerney was not a bad boy.  He is a human being.  He reacted as he had learned to do.  Barely fourteen years of age, Brandon expressed his deep disdain for a situation and someone he could not control.

Chaos abounds.  Nonetheless, we try.  Too often, we fail.  A senseless murder, and what assassination is not absurd, illustrates what occurs when someone does not feel fulfilled and knows not what to do.  People in physical or psychological pain lash out in the ways they know how.

Brandon McInerney was baffled, no terrified, by the actions of another boy.  Lawrence did not cause bodily harm to his peer.  He did no verbal damage, at least not intentionally.  Paradoxically, when Larry spoke of Brandon, he articulated his sincere admiration.  That is what bothered the young boy Brandon.  Love, especially when expressed unconventionally, caused Brandon’s heart and mind to break.  The young lad, now passed, Larry, did not bully Brandon or his buddies.  Indeed, the other boys hassled Lawrence prior to his final day.

In recent weeks, the victim, Lawrence King, 15, had said publicly that he was gay, classmates said, enduring harassment from a group of schoolmates, including the 14-year-old boy charged in his death.

McInerney, now in custody, refuses to speak of what motivated him.  His lawyer offers the fourteen year old is too young to fully understand his actions.  Perhaps all people are too immature to rationalize the unreasonable, revulsion, repulsion, and feelings of repugnance.

What is hate?  Certainly, it is an emotion, as inexplicable as fondness.  Each can be voiced to the extreme.  Neither is inconsequential.  Perhaps, when humans feel adoration or antipathy they lose all perspective.  The chemistry we feel when we connect intensely is uncontrollable.  If only people could capture the energy and place it in a bottle before they pop.

Assemblyman Mike Eng (Democrat, Monterey Park), chairman of the Assembly Select Committee on Hate Crimes, said we would, with a bit of money directed towards teaching diversity, be able to stop crimes against people based on race, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.

“My bill is focusing on [hate crime] prevention,” Eng said after a news conference at his El Monte district office. “We already have bills on the books about proper punishment; mine will focus on dealing with hatred in a school setting.”

Eng hopes to create a pilot program by allocating up to $150,000 to establish a diversity and sensitivity curriculum at a few school districts.  The pilot program would serve as a model to be used to develop lesson plans statewide.

Others in the community believe the proposed program only serves to comfort parents and Principals, adults, and not adolescents.  Countless argue that similar programs such as D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), are ineffective.  These simplistic strategies always were nothing more than slogans used to appease anxious adults.  Although these agendas survive, they do not strengthen the will or the character of the young persons they serve.  At times, instruction is as indifference.  If you do not know what to do,  or say about an open wound, look for an easy answer.  Apply salve, and walk away.  Most of us truly believe the sore will eventually heal by itself.

Here’s a news flash: “Just Say No” is not an effective anti-drug message. And neither are Barney-style self-esteem mantras . . .

DARE, which is taught by friendly policemen in 75 percent of the nation’s school districts, has been plagued by image problems from the beginning, when it first latched on to Nancy Reagan’s relentlessly sunny and perversely simplistic “Just say No” campaign.  The program’s goals include teaching kids creative ways to say “no” to drugs, while simultaneously bolstering their self-esteem (which DARE founders insist is related to lower rates of drug use). . . .

According to an article published in the August 1999 issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, DARE not only did not affect teenagers’ rate of experimentation with drugs, but may also have actually lowered their self-esteem. . . .

The findings were grim: 20-year-olds who’d had DARE classes were no less likely to have smoked marijuana or cigarettes, drunk alcohol, used “illicit” drugs like cocaine or heroin, or caved in to peer pressure than kids who’d never been exposed to DARE.  But that wasn’t all. “Surprisingly,” the article states, “DARE status in the sixth grade was negatively related to self-esteem at age 20, indicating that individuals who were exposed to DARE in the sixth grade had lower levels of self-esteem 10 years later.”  Another study, performed at the University of Illinois, suggests some high school seniors who’d been in DARE classes were more likely to use drugs than their non-DARE peers.

Still, Americans, intent on straightforward solutions, quick fixes, and immediate gratification, forget that life is not so simple. The family teaches children from birth.  The lessons we learn in our youngest years are internalized deeply.  In infancy, each day we encounter our mother, father, or guardian, the people we need most, and most want to love us.  As toddlers, we are intimately involved with our caregivers, even if they do not seem to care for us.  When we are children, the only choice that we have, the only option that gives us a sense of control, is to cling to those who help us survive.  Moms and Dads are our first and best, teachers, if only because they are there in whatever capacity.

However, sadly, for some of us, such as Brandon McInerney our mentors did not teach us well.  Schools try to suffice.  Teachers with ten, twenty forty to a class try to create a relationship with each student.  As educators teach Math, Science, Reading, and English, they work to provide a sense of self-worth to each and every young scholar.  For a few hours, five days a week, a troubled youngster can call his or her classroom home.  

For young people such as Larry, school may have been a place to blossom, somewhere where he felt safe, or for both the boys an educational institution may have been the place where lessons begun at birth were reinforced.  Each was teased, bullied, and verbally battered.  Each had friends.  However, they may not have felt they achieved an authentic intimate connection with anyone.  Even acquaintances can say . . .

“He had a character that was bubbly,” Marissa said. “We would just laugh together. He would smile, then I would smile, and then we couldn’t stop.”

An ally in life does more than smile or laugh.  Larry King may have felt he had few real supporters, in a school he attended for only months.  How close can two people be when they see each other only for hours and then each returns to their own abode.  One may return to the place they consider “Home Sweet Home,” the other may reside in an institution, far from those who are “supposed” to love him.

For several months before to the shooting, Larry had been living at Casa Pacifica, a residential center for troubled youths in Camarillo.

Lawrence’s parents are alive and well, as are his four siblings, a younger brother, two older brothers, and an older sister.  While the family spoke lovingly of the dearly departed, they dared not speak of why the lad no longer lived with them.  Many children today are placed in treatment agencies.  The numbers are staggering.  The reasons are astounding.  Yet, when people know not how to love well, and are not indifferent, they do what they may hate to do.

The number of children placed in residential treatment centers (or RTCs) (1) is growing exponentially.(2) These modern-day orphanages now house more than 50,000 children nationwide.(3)  Children are packed off to RTCs, often sent by officials they have never met, who have probably never spoken to their parents, teachers or social workers.(4) Once placed, these kids may have no meaningful contact with their families or friends for up to two years.(5) And, despite many documented cases of neglect and physical and sexual abuse, monitoring is inadequate to ensure that children are safe, healthy and receiving proper services in RTCs.(6) By funneling children with mental illnesses into the RTC system, states fail-at enormous cost-to provide more effective community-based mental health services.(7)

RTC placements are often inappropriate.

RTCs are among the most restrictive mental health services and, as such, should be reserved for children whose dangerous behavior cannot be controlled except in a secure setting.(8) Too often, however, child-serving bureaucracies hastily place children in RTCs because they have not made more appropriate community-based services available.(9) Parents who are desperate to meet their kids’ needs often turn to RTCs because they lack viable alternatives.(10)

To make placement decisions, families in crisis and overburdened social workers rely on the institutions’ glossy flyers and professional websites with testimonials of saved children.(11)  But all RTCs are not alike.(12)  Local, state and national exposés and litigation “regarding the quality of care in residential treatment centers have shown that some programs promise high-quality treatment but deliver low-quality custodial care.”(13) As a result, parents and state officials play a dangerous game of Russian roulette as they decide where to place children, because little public information is available about the RTCs, which are under-regulated and under-supervised.

Yet, parents and community services agencies take those who are perhaps most vulnerable, our young and troubled teens, and place them in Residential Treatment Centers not able to provide minimal care.  When we, as a culture consider other options, and other means for childcare, we cannot but think of poor Brandon and how he suffered at the hands of his mother and father.  We are reminded that Brandon, the tormented shooter, lived in a location he called home.  We might wonder; which situation was better, worse, or can we even compare the traumas each child in this story suffered.

Brandon and Larry are not anomalies.  They are not alone.  Children throughout our country are taught to express love in a violent manner.  The little ones watch adults they admire model cruelty.  The young are trained to demonstrate their contempt similarly.  Sadistic reactive behaviors rule in our society.  Listen to people ruthlessly scream in the marketplace.  Consider the abundance of “hate crimes” in America.  Turn on the television.  Tune into the radio.  Read the “literature.”  Hostile conduct is commended and condoned.

For too many of our offspring, aggression in their daily existence is the norm.  They hear it in their homes; see their parent bludgeon each other.  As toddlers, tots, children, or teens our youth feel the bruises on their back, and remember the bones broken by those they love most.  Ponder the statistics.

During FFY 2005, an estimated 899,000 children in the 50 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico were determined to be victims of abuse or neglect.
  • Children in the age group of birth to 3 years had the highest rate of victimization at 16.5 per 1,000 children of the same age group in the national population;
  • More than one-half of the victims were 7 years old or younger (54.5%)
  • More than one-half of the child victims were girls (50.7%) and 47.3 percent were boys; and
  • Approximately one-half of all victims were White (49.7%); one-quarter (23.1%) were African-American; and 17.4 percent were Hispanic.

Gender preference did not determine maltreatment when infants and the very young among were involved.  Specific biases are learned as we “mature.”  While many wish to focus on Larry’s identification with the gay community as reason for such a horrific reaction, the cause for Brandon’s response goes far deeper. Scorn is rarely selective.  Disparagement is an equal opportunity employer.

Abusive behaviors are rooted in our personal history.  We cannot dismiss the fact that as a society, our past performances towards those we disdain are deplorable.  As a culture, emotional beings that we are, we embrace love and hate, and ignore indifference.

We must ask ourselves, what are we doing to our offspring from the day they enter this world, and why.  Answers offered after the fact, solutions that do not address the broader question will not stop the violence we see in schools.  Nor will it quash the mayhem or reduce the murders we see on our streets.  Hate crimes are born at home.  Mothers and fathers motivate much that occurs.  Moms and Dads often do what was done to them.

Children ‘learn violence from parents’

Children who witness domestic violence are at an increased risk of having abusive relationships as adults, researchers have found.

Being abused as a child and having behavioural problems also increases the risk of being violent as adults.  Receiving excessive punishment is another risk factor.  US researchers from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and the New York State Psychiatric Institute followed 540 children for 20 years from 1975 . . .

If a pattern of violent behaviour towards a partner has been established, it is difficult to change say the researchers. . . .

If a child was hit by their parents, they were much more likely to see violence as a way of resolving problems as adults, the researchers found.

But seeing violence perpetuated between parents was found the be the greatest risk factor for being the victim of a violent partner as an adult.

Both men and women who witnessed domestic violence were likely to grow up to abuse their partners . . .

“This acceptance of coercive, power-based norms as ways of regulating conflict may have direct implications for young adults’ means of conflict resolution with partners, independent of a disruptive behaviour disorder.”

For too many of our young persons a forceful hand, a furious face, and a vicious voice are identified with those they are most fond of.  Children are confused.  In too many lives, love does not come easily.  Little ones do not know what authentic affection looks like.  As “mature” beings, some people seek the wisdom they did not acquire in their family homes.  They wish to learn of what could not have been fully integrated in a school curriculum.  Grown-up persons harmed by habits that debilitate a mind, body, heart, and soul know to their core, habits die hard.  Adult classes meant to teach as Assemblyman Eng proposed exist at West Virginia University an older person can study How To Communicate Love.  Learners are instructed, “Love comes from within.”  Students are advised to appreciate themselves.

Learning to love yourself will help create your personal appearance of love. If you do not know how to love yourself, you will not be able to love others. Loving yourself also means that you have a loving attitude in your actions and responses toward others; that you look for opportunities to help rather than be helped; that you communicate a loving appreciation of others with “thank you” and “please” as part of your vocabulary; that you forgive others and do not hold a grudge; and that you help people in need without thought of reward or recognition.

However, ultimately pupils are reminded of what Lawrence and Brandon have helped us realize.

How we communicate love to others is learned; we are not born with the ability to communicate love.

Nor are we born with the ability to hate.  Each of us, every man, woman, and child is well-trained.  If we are to truly end the violence that exists in schools, we must eliminate the hostility in our homes.  Assemblyman Eng, perhaps a program in parenting, one instituted in every community throughout the globe might be more effective than any instruction in a school.  If we are to truly teach forbearance to our progeny we must acknowledge parents, adults in every avenue are our life teachers.   Let us not speak of how best to teach the children tolerance.  We, their elders must learn how to love first.  Perhaps, if the elders begin to appreciate each other without brutality, next Valentine’s Day Cupid will not shoot arrow.  He will bestow gentle kisses on each of us.

“God knit Larry together and made him wonderfully complex.

Larry was a masterpiece.”

~ Reverend Dan Birchfield, Westminster Presbyterian Church

Sources, Societal Scars, Scabs . . .