When I was in elementary school I would wear a very stylish, bright orange camo looking hunting hat. I thought it was the coolest hat a kid could own. It was bright, loud and drew lots of attention. It was so awesome that nearly every day at recess, a group of kids took the hat from me and played a game of keep away. I reasoned that they really liked the hat as much as I did and that is why they wanted it so much. It wasn’t until my very astute brother pointed out, while I was crying about how I hated how they took my hat and wished they would get their own instead of taking mine, that they only took it because I would feverishly chase after them to get my hat back. Shortly, after I stopped chasing them around the school yard to get my hat back, and just left them alone, the hat thieves stopped their actions and moved on to other things. What can this story tell us about leading? Let’s get plugged into leadership to find out.
In my junior year of high school on 4/20/1999, a few students changed high schools forever. I don’t think I need to go into any details about what happened. Why? Because chances are you already know what I am referring to. This set off a chain reaction of similar events in the country over the next 2 years. Thankfully, many of them were stopped before an injury happened. Columbine wasn’t the first shooting of its kind at all. In fact, in my hometown about a year before there was a similar event, but that event didn’t set off a chain reaction. What was different about the event at Columbine and the one a year before in Edinboro, PA? The difference that it didn’t cause a chain reaction was the lack of national media coverage. Was it covered on our local news? Yes, for sure. I remember the area being shocked about what happened, but it didn’t get near the attention in the national media that Columbine did.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book “The Tipping Point”, Gladwell looks at what makes something tip in society. He looks at Columbine and how that event started a chain reaction. He looks at another tragedy that started an even more tragic series of events in Micronesia. It was the suicide of a seventeen-year-old boy. Micronesia didn’t have a very high rate of teen suicide before this one. Gladwell says that in Micronesia in the early 1960s there were very few to no suicides, but that the rate started to rise after this until the 1980s where it was 160 per 100,000 people, which is more than 7 times higher than that of the USA. Gladwell traces this rise back to that seventeen-year-old boy. The anthropologist Donald Rubinstein has written as series of papers on the epidemic. In one of them, he states this set of chilling observations, “Suicide ideation among adolescents appears widespread in certain Micronesian communities and is popularly expressed in recent songs composed locally and aired on Micronesian radio stations, and in graffiti adorning T-shirts and high school walls. A number of young boys who attempted suicide reported that they first saw or heard about it when they were 8 or 10 years old.” Attempted suicide in Micronesia was seen as “cool” and because of that it was “tried” or “experimented” with. The trouble is that unlike other things that kids try or experiment with, suicide has much more severe consequences, much like gun violence.
In the past few years, there has been violence and bloodshed in movie theaters, schools, public buildings and all over the USA. Because of this, we have been searching for a solution. Much of the debate revolves around new laws and more education about gun safety or straight up banning of guns from private citizens. This isn’t the place for me to say where I fall on that debate. You know as much as I do that it is hard to get laws from public opinion through the process, but it can happen. The nature and breadth of those laws, I will leave for another time. But the real issue I want to get across is what you and I can do today and in the next few months to be part of the solution! I think we can all agree that we need a solution. The continued violence on American streets is a real problem and needs a sweeping overhaul.