About three weeks ago, a 13-year-old boy boarded a school bus in Florida, where he was allegedly beaten by three 15-year-old boys, who believed he'd ratted them out to school officials for trying to sell him marijuana. The bus was equipped with a video camera and the bus video made it to YouTube.
A couple of weeks ago, three teenage boys from Duncan, Okla., apparently bored in the last days of summer, reportedly decided to go find someone to kill. They found Chris Lane, an Australian playing college baseball in the States. Driving up alongside him as he was jogging, they alleged shot him in the back and left him to die in a ditch. The suspected teenagers were ages 15, 16 and 17.
Last week, Delbert Belton was allegedly robbed and beaten to death by two teenage boys in Spokane, Wash. Delbert, age 88, survived the Battle of Okinawa in World War II only to die in a parking lot 68 years later.
Florida, Oklahoma, Washington. Add to those the ongoing violence and death toll in cities like Chicago, Ill. or Flint and Detroit, Mich. As the stories of youth violence make the rounds in municipal, state and national news coverage, people search for answers. I've heard reasons of racism, lack of community support for youth, degradation of a civil society, the gun culture in the United States, the public school system, lack of fathers in the home, video games and gangs. Each reason was given with passion and persuasion, as if it alone held the key to unlock relief.
It may be more comforting to believe there is a single, broad-sweeping answer to curb these stories of violence but I think the real answer may not be a), b) or c) but d) all of the above. One thing I've learned, over almost three decades of working with complex mental health issues, is that there is invariably a conglomeration of causes, influences and effects that must be identified, acknowledged and factored into recovery. Some people I've worked with have desperately wanted that one reason, searched for that powerful epiphany, that singular strategy, that magic pill to provide the answer and make the pain go away.
But recovery doesn't usually work that way. Recovery involves shifting through the debris and the dross of the present, as well as the residue and the rubble of the past: broken relationships, compromised health, damaging decisions, actions of self and others. Often, only the current state of pain is enough to compel a person to undergo such painstakingly personal work. I wonder if, as a society, we are finally ready to do that level of work where the violence involving our young people, especially our teenage males, is concerned.
When a person is in therapy, often he or she will initially offer up the reasons they are most willing to acknowledge -- the reasons that place them in the best light or the reasons that hurt the least to expose. People tend to protect their deepest motivations zealously and will only bring those to the surface in an atmosphere of trust. Does this country have an atmosphere of trust? Are we able to dig deep with one another and expose the thoughts and motivations behind how we really feel and why? I'm not so sure.
Doing the deep work of therapy is difficult and gut-wrenching. You must be willing to acknowledge the truth about yourself and others. You must be unblinkingly honest when it hurts the most. To experience healing, in the midst of pain you must find the capacity to forgive.
When will this country's pain over youth violence become reason enough to do the deep work? The quick, decibel-grabbing voices shouting back and forth across political and racial lines may provide mcanswers but what we need is to work together. Together, we must dig deep and find all the answers, the ones we are comfortable with and especially the ones we're not.