Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Lesson from the Amish

The recent tragedy in Connecticut is not the first school shooting in the United States. A chronology of the last 20+ years of shootings reveals a list of about 20 in which a gunman gets onto school grounds and begins shooting until he is either subdued or turns the weapon on himself. This shooting is unique because of the numbers killed plus the age of most of the victims. Now the media is busy focusing on the tragedy and beginning again to put together a “profile” of the killer in order to keep weapons from such people. There is also the renewal of the never ending debate on gun control.

 Leaders are busy trying to find a way to make individual citizens feel safe when they leave the security of their homes to go about their daily lives. I do not wish to belittle the tragedy that has occurred for 26 families in Connecticut, but I believe we are expecting too much of our leaders, especially the federal government. This type of tragedy is a signal of the breakdown of communities and it behooves the individuals in all communities across this nation to start looking at what is happening in their community and take responsibility for fixing it – not expecting some entity from Washington, D.C. to come in and help solve the problem for them. Perhaps we can learn how to do this by looking at a community that suffered the same kind of loss on October 2, 2006.

On that day a well known member of the Amish community named Charles Carl Roberts IV aged 32 walked into the one-room school house and took the entire student body hostage before killing five girls and then shooting himself. First responders did, indeed, come to the scene until the crisis ended, but, afterward, the Amish did not reach to federal officials or other agencies for help to survive this tragedy and move forward. There was no cry for better gun control; in fact, the Amish do not own guns. What did the Amish do?

One of the basic tenants of the Amish faith (Amish Grace- How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy by Donald B. Kraybill et al) is that believers cannot be forgiven their earthly transgressions and enter into heaven if they cannot forgive their transgressors on Earth. Therefore, the Amish set about forgiving Mr. Roberts. Everyone in the community knew Mr. Roberts. Families affected by his actions took food to his family and offered comfort to them in their time of grief. The nation was astounded by this act as they read about these events. The community came together, offered solace and forgiveness to all involved and recovered without any government intervention.

What lesson can we learn from this even if we are not followers of the Amish faith? The first lesson is that the best way to prevent guns from getting into the wrong hands is for each adult individual in the community to take the responsibility to know his or her neighbors. If there is need or suffering there, take action. Inform responsible agencies in the community about this. Take compassionate action ahead of time. Look people in the eye when going about daily activities. Teach the adolescents in the community to get involved with community service and do peer monitoring before a tragedy occurs. Prevention is much preferred to intervention and the prevention begins at home.

Parents need to know their children and other parents need to support all parents in their efforts to monitor and control adolescents. But the most important lesson of all is love and forgiveness. Until society can learn to forgive those who transgress with compassion instead of making them into media “heroes,” this type of activity will continue.  

A study of our nation’s history provides hundreds of names that have been glorified in the past and present by the media and Hollywood. Billy the Kid, Bat Masterson, Doc Holiday, Jesse and Frank James, Bugs Moran, and Bonnie and Clyde are only a few who come to mind. What were the names of their victims? Gun violence is not new. War is the ultimate result of belief that violence will end violence. The anger and resentment toward the “enemy” continues, however, long after the guns have been “laid down” and festers and simmers until another outbreak begins. Many times those who are fighting have lost any idea about the reason for the war.

During the Peace Convention of 1915, one of the most stirring speeches against World War I came from Frau Hofrath von Lecher of Austria. She had been an upper-class housewife who became a nurse in a hospital for the wounded. Although charged with the care of hundreds of severely wounded soldiers, she had no supplies to tend to them – not even any food. She asked the soldiers, “What are you fighting for?”

They replied, “We do not know – we were told to fight.” When they found that she was to attend the Peace Convention, they begged her to implore the nations of the earth to make peace in the names of their wives and children.

We are at a point in our nation where we have lost any idea of who the enemy is because we have forgotten why man began to live in communities in the first place. It was to rise above the “every man for himself” Law of the Jungle attitude. The Amish have not forgotten this and their community moved forward and transcended the tragedy that beset them that October day. Hopefully, we as a nation of communities can learn this lesson and move beyond the most recent tragedy in compassionate love and forgiveness. We call ourselves a Christian nation. Perhaps we should remember the words of Jesus as he suffered death by crucifixion, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”  (Luke 23:34)