You know how I try to keep politics and violence out of Return of the Native. If this column accomplishes anything, I hope that it brings people together. We are all just walking each other home.

This week, I find it difficult to keep from saying anything about the mounting violence across our country. Whether it is school children shooting other kids or a troubled veteran taking hostages at a Veterans Administration home in California, there is something amiss here.

After reading a news item about the mass school stabbing rampage in Murrysville, I started looking for social media commentary this afternoon. I couldn’t help it. It’s a sign of the times.

There have always been those who make a profit from someone else’s troubles. News reporters are always the first to get a black eye for this, but there are any number of companies who will now be marketing body armor or self-defense classes for only $599.97. We should not neglect the profit realized by town gossips, either.

Me, when all the television pundits start pointing fingers during those morning screamfests loosely referred to as “news” these days, I tend to look in the opposite direction. I am more a cynic than a conspiracy theorist.

The usual groups make the expected noises about the perennial culprits, those retrograde rednecks polishing their guns while perusing Deuteronomy. Remind them that the majority of gun crimes take place in urban areas with more liberal leanings, but be prepared to be called some uncivil names, really.

Of course, there are those paying lip service to mental illness. Actually, the folks with these problems are seldom going to be voted “most likely to go on a rampage.” It helps if they have family and friends to talk them down from the scary places.

But I have to ask an inconvenient question here. There are probably lots of other people asking the same thing.

What is troubling these young people so much that they lash out with lethal force? Why are they on anti-psychotic medication in the first place?

“Oh, Native, if you’re so smart, why don’t you tell the experts how to fix the problem?”

The short answer is, it’s way above my pay grade. At this stage of my life, I have no desire to return to college for a master’s degree in clinical psychology. There are tons of those folks around and it doesn’t seem to be making much difference.

But what I can be is a good person who happens to have a knack for writing. I try to use it for good and use it for peace. So, here goes.

Teach your kids and grandkids that bullying is unacceptable, at any time and for any reason. Remember that they are watching your example. So are other adults.

It is not okay to exclude other people in a social setting, especially if you do it to impress other people, always a questionable pursuit. Think it’s a joke? A lot of the school shooters and stabbers are loners.

It is not a bad thing to reach out to the odd kid. We’re adults, and most of us gave up believing in cooties a couple of decades ago. You, my friend, might be the sole reason that a lonely kid makes the right decision on a bad day.

I’ve never been a fan of Hillary Clinton, but she said something long ago that has stuck with me for the past 20 years.

Yes, it does take a village to raise a child.

If you see or hear something, say something. Keep saying it and don’t take a brush-off for an answer. Living in a small town and not wanting to stir up your neighbors is not a valid excuse.

In most of the after-action reports following a mass shooting, you will see a handful of people saying that they heard or saw something beforehand that worried them. I wonder if it bothers them that they didn’t say anything.

You don’t have to be a crusading and tiresome social justice warrior. A quiet word with a school administrator or a law enforcement officer you know could save one or more lives. Teen suicides take more lives than school shootings annually.

I won’t bore you with a long-winded discussion about social theory. Most of that tends to be tripe anyway. But there is more than a kernel of “makes you kind of wonder” in some of it.

Back in the 1890s, there was this Frenchman, Emile Durkheim, interviewing people who left the countryside and moved to cities. Cut off from their friends and family, they felt isolated and lacking a connection to the communities in which they lived. And they were more likely to commit crimes.

Does this sound strangely familiar?

He called this condition “anomie.” In a nutshell, if you feel that nobody cares about you, why should you care about them?

I may well be preaching to the choir here. I’ve been running into people from areas outside of the Redbank Valley, and they all seem to be good folks. For one thing, they read my column.

All the same, we need a reminder from time to time about how much the individual matters. The mainstream media tells us to sit down, shut up and pay attention to what they consider the right way to think and speak. The little guy simply doesn’t count for much.

But he does. We do.

[Susan Kerr is a semi-retired freelance writer living in her hometown of New Bethlehem. Previously, she was the managing editor of a regional-interest magazine and a business journal in State College.]

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