A grieving father – who lost his 14-year-old daughter, Alaina JoAnn Petty, to the Valentine’s Day shooting at a high school in Broward County, Florida – is advocating a gracious heaping of loving kindness at the institutions where children are educated.
After Alaina was buried, Feb. 19, her father, Ryan Petty, launched a social media slogan, #WalkUpNotOut. He says it’s a message of compassion to the might-be, could-be and perhaps, otherwise, would-be murderers among us.
Petty is urging students to reach out warmly to their classmates who appear to be isolated, lonely and, potentially, therefore, dangerous. On Tuesday, March 13, Petty, from his Twitter account, urged students not to leave school for the walk-outs they had planned throughout the nation in protest of school shootings like the one that killed Petty’s daughter, a high school freshman.
In his tweet, Petty wrote: “Instead of walking out of school on March 14, encourage students to walk up – walk up to the kid who sits a lone [sic] at lunch and invite him to sit with your group; walk up to the kid who sits quietly in the corner of the room and sit next to her, smile and say Hi; walk up to the kid who causes disturbances in class and ask how he is doing; walk up to your teachers and thank them; walkup to someone who has different views than you and get to know them – you may be surprised at how much you have in common. Build on that foundation instead of casting stones….”
And who, after all, would argue with kindness? It is a blessing to the one who gives it and to the one who receives it. And there’s something more about kindness, too; it is large in effect, no matter how small a kind gesture may seem.
But is the milk of human kindness the antidote to the deadly plague of mass shootings that, for more than 20 years by now – from Columbine, Colorado, in 1999, to Parkland, Florida, in 2018 – has afflicted, at the very least, an entire generation of American students, at every level of education, from elementary school through university?
More than four centuries before Petty’s tweet, Shakespeare weighed justice with the quality of mercy and found mercy greater, by far.
In “The Merchant of Venice,” Shakespeare wrote of mercy, “‘T is mightiest in the mightiest,” and he concluded that mercy is “an attribute to God himself; And earthly power doth then show likest God’s when mercy seasons justice.”
More recently, in 2015, many of the compelling ideas Petty is now advancing – as if they will stem the gory scourge of mass shootings at American schools – were regarded so favorably by the Broward School District, they were included in the district’s official policy intended to divert teens away from criminal convictions and jail sentences, to keep them in school.
As far, however, as the presumption that a lack of attention causes unbalanced young men to murder children, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz – who confessed to committing the massacre that killed 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School – Broward Sheriff’s deputies had visited Cruz’ home nearly 40 times, in response to 911 calls, prior to his horrific assault at the high school.
Considering that it is American children who continue to be the victims – and the traumatized survivors – of ineffective policies and sentimental fantasies, like the ones Petty is now advocating, it’s no wonder that today’s teens are stepping up to the crisis that, with increasing frequency, is killing their peers and leaving these young survivors deeply wounded, physically and emotionally and deprived, too, of any remaining trust in the adults who are responsible for protecting them.
What choice remains to today’s teens but to devise their own strategies – whether walking out of class for 17 minutes to acknowledge those who died in the latest school shooting or traveling to the capitol of their own state and nation to propose their solutions to lawmakers?
It’s time again, now, to listen and to hear – in a new way, from a new perspective – Nobel Peace Prize winner Bob Dylan’s moving anthem from 1964:
… Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
The battle outside ragin’
Will soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’
Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly aging
Please get outta’ the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’ …