People have to be taught to deal with anger in a constructive way

Dear Editor,

The shooting massacre in Connecticut touched lives everywhere and was discussed by the Guyanese diaspora.  It was heart wrenching to read and watch news reports about it and Guyanese grieved for the victims and their families.  It was the subject of conversation everywhere I went among Guyanese and non-Guyanese and everyone I came across grieved for the innocent victims. At JFK airport on Friday afternoon, it was the subject of conversation throughout the airport with eyes fixed on the TV screen. And on the CAL aircraft, Guyanese and other West Indians talked about it.  It was also the subject of conversation in Tobago over the weekend among teachers and others with whom I interacted. People were in shock about the gruesome level of violence in America and that even its elementary schools are not safe from mass killings.

Everywhere, people were grappling to come to terms with what really happened at Newtown trying to make sense of why this gunman took so many lives, including his mother’s and his own. Their hearts and prayers went out to the victims, those little kids, teachers, parents and friends.

When the massacre occurred last Friday, it was late in the day and as such it could not be discussed in the classrooms.  But on Monday, schools across America, including mine, honoured victims with a moment of silence. As a teacher, I was devastated and so were my colleagues.

The shooting was the subject of discussion in all of my classes, pre-empting the curriculum.  Indeed the shooting was discussed among every educator and student in the building. In recent years, people are attacked for no apparent reason, and with so many killings in America in schools, shopping centres and colleges, it appears no one is really safe.  America, indeed the world, is polluted with so much violence that it feels like the world is falling off a moral cliff and education on violence should become mandatory in every school in all parts of the globe.  There is this new culture of killing and violence everywhere, particularly in developed countries. I travel a lot, and everywhere I go, I read about so much violence including in our very own Guyana. For some strange reason, people seem to think violence is the way to right wrongs. Mediation and negotiations are not among the first thoughts or responses among people who are in conflict.

When I was growing up as a child during the 1960s and 1970s on the Corentyne, violence was far from our minds, except for the minor pushing and shoving and wrestling among kids and that would be settled by a good whipping from elders.

But not in this era, as kids are now beating adults and no one likes to be told they are wrong. They are giving violent responses to any slight disrespect.  Psychologists need to explain this phenomenon. It could be that people are exposed to so much violence in Hollywood and on TV as well as in video games, in addition to the use of psychotropic drugs, etc, that they respond violently to almost anything. People described the killer as a maniac and as someone who was deranged, had a split personality and as autistic.  But those descriptions don’t provide a solution to avoid more killings.

As students in my classrooms said, something must be done about the gun violence, indeed all forms of violence.  People need to be counselled into non-violent courses of action, and the authorities need to address mental health education otherwise many more lives will be senselessly lost. As a teacher, I can tell the authorities mental health is very important and as Sandy Hook, among the most peaceful communities in the world, has demonstrated, unstable minds pose a danger to all regardless of location. America has had several mass murder-shootings in recent years committed by individuals who were not mentally stable. Psychiatric assistance for unstable minds is crucial to avoid killings.

As someone who did Special Education courses at CCNY and who has taught students with all kinds of learning challenges, mental health education is very important to society. And what happened in Connecticut makes such education all the more necessary. Teachers, students and the public should be schooled into recognizing the red flags of mental instability. And no stigma should be attached to those whose heads are “not right.”

In addition, people at a very young age need to be taught how to deal with anger in a constructive way.
Most importantly, America has to find a way to prevent guns getting into the hands of kids and mentally challenged individuals. There should be no open access to guns. Assault weapons should not be in the hands of the public anywhere in the world.  It is hoped that this latest atrocity will galvanize support in Congress to enact gun control legislation. Republicans and the National Rifle Association need to end their opposition to gun control bills and President Obama should push the gun control agenda now that public opinion is in favour of such laws.

What a sad holiday it would be for so many families and neighbours. The lovely faces of the victims, especially the little ones with so much to live for, will forever be in our thoughts.

Yours faithfully,
Vishnu Bisram

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