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Awareness Begins With Listening

Man holding a hand to his ear to hear something

Each targeted act of mass violence–whether in a school or another organization–sparks debate and generates some degree of action. While these tragedies may be statistically unlikely, their impact is beyond description, and regardless of which side of certain discussions people are on, the end goal seems to be the same: stop the senseless violence. Yet as 2018 comes to a close, we’ve already endured over 300 mass shootings (classified by as four or more shot and/or killed in a single event) in the US. A majority of the country questions:  

  • Who’s going to fix the problem?

  • How will they do it and when?

Action in the Absence of Answers 

Some aren’t willing to wait for others to solve a seemingly unsolvable problem. Instead, they’re challenging our typical response to a tragic event by developing unique, innovative programs on their terms.

Days after the Parkland shooting, for instance, Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas assembled a task force to improve safety inside schools and other area organizations. Comprised of community representatives, the team concentrated their efforts to identify methods to prevent similar incidents from happening locally.

Subcommittees prioritized their attention on privacy, prevention, intervention, and coordinated response from law enforcement formed to support the team’s mission. “This task force,” said Singas, “will bring stakeholders together to tear down communication barriers and ensure Nassau is taking a proactive approach to prevent these senseless crimes.” As a result, her community benefited from a multi-pronged approach that increases awareness of potential threats while making proactive strides towards protecting lives within it.

Taking a lesson from Nassau County, it’s time we all ask ourselves: What’s something I could do now to help improve the safety of my community?

A Little Extra Awareness Goes a Long Way.

The actions, behaviors, and events leading to a mass shooting or other threats of harm are multifaceted and complex. Eventually, the contributing issues converge and then manifest as an act of violence. Often a cry for help or a publicly-visible threat went unnoticed ahead of the incident; 40% of school violence between 2106 – 2018 involved an outcry on social media. In response, prevention of such tragedies must be multi-layered–with a consistent emphasis on building awareness. The greatest impact on preventing acts of violence in our schools is an adult who listens and cares.

We’re seeing it work through reports of incidents thwarted by someone paying attention or elevating their concern reach the public more frequently. That single, seemingly simple effort of being aware may be your community’s best opportunity for prevention and protection. And while schools, law enforcement, counselors, and politicians focus on their safety and security policies, paying attention is something anyone can and must do.

You may not have the resources or authority to manage a full-scale task force, but you don’t necessarily need one to be effective. It shouldn’t prevent any of us from paying a little extra attention for the sake of community safety. Most of us know when something doesn’t seem quite right. Being present in your surroundings, pausing to ask if someone is okay, or alerting someone when an individual possibly needs help could lead to an intervention that potentially saves lives. Again, the greatest solution to acts of violence in our schools is a relationship between a student and a caring adult. The most effective relationships involve the gift of listening.

There’s no doubt that today’s world is drastically different than it was just 10 or 15 years ago. What may have risen concern back then may not warrant the same reaction now. As much as things have changed, the simple gesture of increasing awareness carries the enormous potential to keep students, staff, and everyone else in your community safe.