Nurture Values--Youth violence demands systemic changes.
Thursday, June 17, 1999
What happened at Georgia''s Heritage High School and Colorado''s Columbine High School is not atypical. Disturbing trends of violence have proliferated in our society for years. We search for answers but find few immediate solutions. All the laws, prisons and quick fixes show only marginal results. Intuitively, we know any legitimate answers will require systemic changes and risk. Enduring solutions require reverting to basics while remaining steadfast in protecting our freedoms.
We ask lawmakers to provide solutions to our societal problems but avoid accepting responsibility ourselves. Many politicians oblige by passing quick-fix laws that divert our attention instead of focusing our efforts on long-term goals. Those who obscure the primary issues are motivated by self-serving interests such as money, power, empire building or winning the next election. Government has systematically usurped the role of the parent by assuming more responsibility and limiting parents'' authority to discipline. By default, government has become the impersonal parent.
It takes courage to change the way we use our resources. Salinas Mayor Anna Caballero recently brought together 100 Salinas-area leaders to share their thoughts about our at-risk children. The group created a 35-page booklet, "Cultivating Peace in Salinas: A Framework for Violence Prevention," that city leaders have embraced as a "road map" for peace. I suggest other cities consider a summit to collectively discuss these important issues.
Adolescents have erupted in a reign of violence and we ask why. Some of the primary answers relate to the deterioration of family, loss of conscience, values, responsibility, empathy, and spirituality. Children yearn for firm and fair guidance which translates into an expression of love. When their needs go unfulfilled, children react with frustration, anger and then violence. Our children have become confused and desensitized by toxic and mixed messages from our culture and part-time parents. We must begin to treat our children as our No. 1 priority.
Violence is an everyday occurrence in the ghettos of America. Shamefully, it took tragedies in predominately white, rural high schools to cause us to ponder our future. Americans espouse non-violence, but we are addicted to power, sex and brutality. This begs the question: Why does our society legitimize violence as an acceptable way to resolve conflict?
The corporate towers in America suggest, "Life will become better if you obtain more material possessions." We cannot continue to allow ourselves to be satisfied by transient materialism that promotes instant gratification but does nothing for our children. Child-rearing has become a chore--an after-thought rather than a solemn duty. Perhaps we should value our children more than a new house, cars or jewelry.
I propose we look beyond secondary factors such as crime, violent video games, guns, gangs and drugs. Those factors merely represent the fatal consequences of the loss of primary influences such as values and responsibility. Secondary factors divert our attention from the painful truth: Many have abdicated their responsibility for parenting, educating, disciplining, and teaching values. We must heal hearts, minds and attitudes.
Progress will occur if we re-engineer our goals, eliminate turf battles, adopt healthy values, respect cultural differences, promote education, and volunteer to assist those in need. To re-evaluate our approach requires stamina, honesty, confidence and public participation. We must slowly shift our attention to the primary causes of unrest rather than squander more money on ill-fated programs and bureaucracy.
We are a great society that cares about people. Our children and future generations depend on today''s unselfish accomplishments.
Carl Cieslikowski is a member of the "Salinas 100" and sits on the Sunrise House board of directors.