While some of us were children, our parents were forced with the dilemma of rationing fuel. Switch plates in our public buildings reminded us of this, asking us to turn off the lights before leaving the room. Our nation was in the midst of an energy crisis. Some of us remember those days. Being a kid, it didn’t bother us as much as it did our parents. When we cried for them after a nightmare, they didn’t preach to us about the resources expanded by turning on the bedroom light. They turned on the light, soothed our concerns and left the light on while we fell back to sleep.
Last week, in various acts of activism, our children voiced out against gun violence in their respective schools. A young generation gathered together and said, “enough” and “never again” weeks after the latest high school massacre in Parkland, Fla. For some, it was a cry for help. For others, it was the first step towards turning the light on for themselves. But, what happened afterwards is an embarrassment.
We posted a video of one of those gatherings at Bethlehem Central High School. An example of a well organized walk out, done so with the aid of a compassionate school staff. Students peacefully walked out and into the protection of the football field, never leaving the campus. Student leaders spoke, asking for a moment of silence, and later sharing speeches empowering these future voters to take action at the polls. One voice in particular spoke of our tendency to dwell within our own echo chambers. We stay within a community of like-minded people to shelter from those who differ from us, and combat against them. Hyperbole, you think? Read the more than 300 comments left on that post.
Our social media has exhibited just how antisocial people can be. Insults and assumptions fly freely towards strangers, instead of salutations and questions in attempts to understand. Today, we speak of those who chose to lash out and attack these children without once having a conversation with them. Children who some have said are too young to comprehend the message they are standing behind, while many of them are approaching the threshold to vote. The same threshold that obliges them to register for civil service. The same age older generations went on to fight in foreign wars. A 17- or 18-year-old is too young to understand the world, but we can ask them to to travel halfway around it to die in war. The average age of a U.S. soldier killed in Vietnam was 19.
There is no debate anymore. People have lost the ability to communicate with one another. Instead of earnest attempts at listening and sharing one’s side, learning and possibly compromising, there are attacks and straight-line attempts to undermine. Just as some believe conservatives are warmongers, there are others who believe liberals advocate for gun control because AR-15s are scary looking. The same astute student leader who spoke of echo chambers last week also advised his peers to not define this moment as an argument for gun control. There is a need, however, a need for change. Our children are crying for help.
Regardless of which side of the argument you stand, a civil and compassionate conversation is needed. Unfortunately, many of the adults of this country have proven they possess the inability to do so. Here, we have a young generation biting at the bit, rattling at the gates before they are released out into the world.
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.