Dawn Hochsprung, the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary School, was not a fighter. With her warm, joyful personality, she had a gentle approach that made room for other people's feelings and opinions to be heard and respected. She knew how to be effective without being adversarial. She was also passionate about her role as guide and protector in the lives of her students, as she proved in the last moments of her life.
One of Dawn's colleagues told a story recently about attending a board meeting that began with a palpably tense atmosphere. Dawn made an entrance with a smile on her face and a big box of chocolates. She walked around the room, offering candy to each person with an air of conciliation, and as this teacher described it, the mood in the meeting just shifted. People visibly relaxed and seemed more willing to work together. This sweet story of a small act that transcended people's readiness to fight for their stance is a great example of how Dawn Hochsprung approached the world. And although she is sadly no longer here with us in body, her example guides us as we come together with the purpose of creating a more peaceful.
Last week, the non-profit group Sandy Hook Promise introduced itself to the country. Started by residents of Newtown, SHP's mission is to honor all the lives that were lost in the shooting by working toward the goal of a better, safer world, one in which a massacre of children and their teachers in an elementary school can never happen again. As they state in their multi-part promise, they "have no agenda" about how to make this happen. Instead, the promise includes having "conversations on all the issues, conversations where listening is as important as speaking. Conversations where even those with the most opposing views can debate in good will." It goes on to state "Though we continue to be filled with unbearable pain we choose love, belief and hope instead of anger."
This is an admirable and enlightened approach toward a necessary transformation of our collective way of thinking. I believe that it is also the only way to evolve and accomplish the goal of a less violent society. Like Dawn with her box of chocolates, we need to bypass fear and reach out to each other with empathy. Violence and anger are the products of fear, and we won't convince people to stop stockpiling deadly weapons until they understand that they already have power, because their voices are being heard and their fellow citizens and elected officials are not against them. When we let go of our individual agendas and treat all people with compassion, the fear will begin to dissipate. When we truly listen to each other, we'll discover that we have a lot in common. For starters, we all want to be safe and keep our loved ones from harm.
I realize that some people will read these words and decide that my viewpoint is naïve and unrealistic. I get that, because we are used to thinking in terms of winning against an opposing side, and the approach I'm describing doesn't fit that paradigm. That's the point.
Americans are clearly ready to alter the status quo when it comes to guns and violence as well as our treatment of the mentally ill. And since a "war on guns" or a "war on violence" is nonsensical on its face, logic tells us that it's time for a new, more enlightened way of thinking and behaving. To quote the Sandy Hook Promise once more, it's time "to truly honor the lives lost by turning our tragedy into a moment of transformation."
One recent evening, my daughter shared her thoughts about her former principal with me. She said that Mrs. Hochsprung was always so nice and never yelled at anyone. She asked me "How could someone like her die that way?"
It's a good question, the kind that we've all been asking ourselves since that terrible day. From what I can tell, Dawn Hochsprung understood that fear, anger and violence are the opposite of love, empathy, and the innocence exemplified in young school children. She lived the Sandy Hook Promise, and by consciously following her example, we can do the same.