(Originally posted on September 19th, 2006)
The news of the tragic shootings at Dawson College in Montreal last week is still flooding the media. Once again we open the conversation about how such a tragic thing could happen. We don’t know much at this point about what lead up to the events this day. I am sure much will be discussed in the weeks to come as we make sense of this random act of violence.
Sadly, I also know that this event will mostly likely trigger worried mothers of young children to once again resume the witch hunt for bullies in their own children’s nursery school and elementary school classrooms. After all, every channel on TV is telling them that evil stalks amongst us right? Gotta love the media.
Time for some FRESH news. If we want to rid the world of so called "random acts of violence" – lets fight it with "random acts of encouragement". Instead of taking the more hard-nosed "zero tolerance policy" approach we seem to so love in this society, lets try being more loving and inclusive instead.
Let me explain…..
I want to take this moment to talk about our littlest youngsters who act aggressively and meanly so that I can make a plea to adults to please see these children in a different light!
We need to better understand the inner world of the child who resorts to aggressive tactics like bullying, biting, hitting, rudeness, defiance and acting out.
These children are not "full of evil", but rather they are deeply hurting inside. Children who act out are trying, in creative ways, to find their place socially, to be accepted and belong like everyone else.
Children who feel marginalized are working to gain some form of social position, acceptance, belonging or status from others. It is their tremendous feelings of inferiority, feeling that they are somehow "less than" that drives them to act in ways that they feel will move them to a "plus" state, maybe through look tough and big and strong. This is not a given – but an understandable conclusion that a child might deduce.
The deeper the sense of discouragement and feelings of inferiority the stronger the drive to conquer that feeling. In psychological terms we say this leads to a phenomena called "overcompensation". If ever you have flubbed up a job interview or first date from "trying too hard" you know all about the troubles that overcompensation can cause!
Overcompensation happens in most systems. When a deficiency is present the response to return to stasis is overshot. For example, when you break a bone, the new bone your body lays down is thicker and heavier than the bone that was there originally. This happens to our psychic systems as well. The person with inferiority feelings will overdo and overcompensate. So, you try to seem nice on your first date and you end up giggling and blathering on like an idiot. You want to impress the interviewer for the job and you come off as totally arrogant and cocky, or bumbling and incompetent.
Many know this idea of overcompensation by the name "a Napoleon Complex". Napolean was a little man so he felt he had to act in superior big ways to compensate for his perceived short comings or felt inferiorities.
So how do bones, blathering and Napoleon affect our children? Well, children deeply need to feel included and accepted just as crucially as they need air to breath. And I don’t say that to be dramatic, I really mean it. We call this "failure to thrive" and perfectly healthy babies can die at birth if they don’t feel secure and attached to another who will care for them.
Children will experiment with behaviours that may seem odd or out of line to us, but they are simply the creative attempts of the child to find a way in socially, to feel their place and signifance amongst other humans. It’s vitally important!
So – why do I write about this today? Because we must all own OUR part of the problem here. Just how do WE marginalize children? push them out, make them feel different or inferior? Act in ways that are exclusionary or unaccepting?
We tell our kids not to play with those "mean children", we tell the schools we want those children expelled and put some where else. We avoid them at the park, give them cold stares when they act up in public. In short – we shun those who most need to be reached!
So – today – why not instead try a random act of encouragement. When you see the kid at the park who is running around seemingly acting obnoxious, why not give a big smile and ask if they’d like to get in your game of Frisbee. Why not go up to the child who is the terror of the lunch room where you are the volunteer monitor and ask them "hey – whatcha got packed in your lunch today? What’s favorite kinda of sandwich?
Imagine if you were feeling on the outs and then suddenly these little acts of kindness noticing and caring where to happen? Its medicine for a child’s soul when we connect with them.
So go be nice to a kid who you normally wouldn’t be and maybe we’ll save a soul who might just otherwise, eventually, well – snap.