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A case of misplaced priorities

Sometimes you don't know whether to laugh or cry.

Do you talk about Sanjaya getting voted off "America Idol" and how a couple of weird hairdos can make you a national celebrity?

Or do you talk about how 32 families have a hole in their heart that will never heal, and how there's a 33rd family, Seung-Hui Cho's family, who also lost their child and has to live with something even worse.

Both stories make for enticing headlines and cocktail party conversations but, after all the media hype is over, what have we really learned?

That hair gel is more important than talent? Or that anger and violence really do affect us all?

It might seem strange to compare a horribly troubled young man to a bunch of pop star wannabe's on "America Idol," but there is a connection.

"American Idol" provides us with an infrastructure to reach out and help young hopefuls accomplish their dreams. When Ryan Seacrest points his finger into the camera and asks, "America, do you want Sanjaya to stay on for another week?" we know exactly what to do. His fate is in our hands and, when a few thousand of us decide to get on our cell phones, he gets a chance that he might not otherwise have had.

But there's no 865 number to call when you see violence brewing. I feel fully confident that if any of Cho's teachers had been afforded direct access to a violence prevention team, they would have called immediately after reading his plays.

So the violence bubbles away, while pop culture satisfies our desire to help America's youth.

It's been said that, "success has many fathers but failure is an orphan."

We feel a personal responsibility to keep cute little Sanjaya in the competition for as long as possible. Yet we feel completely helpless when another young man erupts in a violent rage.

Sanjaya is a sweet kid with goofy hair and a fabulous grin. Whether you liked his singing or not, you kinda wanted to see him do well.

Cho was an angry scowling college student whose violent writings scared his classmates.

However, this wasn't a case of everybody looking the other way. Several people tried to help him, and many referred him to counseling.

But they didn't have a clear path to follow because, while our current system treats the outcome of violence as an emergency, we don't have much of an infrastructure for dealing with the warning signs.

But it doesn't have to be that way.

If America can create a TV show that allows us to spot the seeds of talent, we ought to be able to create a system that allows us to spot the seeds of violence also.

I've talked before about a Department of Peace and Nonviolence ( It's a bill (HR 808) in front of Congress, and one of the elements is an infrastructure for identifying potential violence. It would provide immediate access to preventative resources, so that teachers, counselors and parents had somewhere to turn when they ran across someone like Cho.

I don't know if the Department of Peace will be able to prevent every angry person from picking up a gun.

But I do know that we have a responsibility to try, both for the future victims and the future perpetrators.

So next week, instead of calling into "American Idol," I'm calling my congressman and asking him to support this bill.

There are some young people out there who need my help, and a few cell phone minutes seems like a small price to pay to change someone's entire life.


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