By Marlene Wessel
In 1958, I walked into our kitchen to find my 16-year-old brother dodging plates being thrown by my mother. She didn’t stop. Using him as a shield, I ran with him. Because even at 4, I knew that if one of those dishes hit me, they might hurt.
Back then, the mantra was, “What goes on in this house, stays in this house.” You didn’t tell anybody what might be wrong in your family dynamics. You swallowed it, absorbed it, forgot it, cried silently, punched your pillow and got on with your life. That was defined as inner strength, I guess.
It was the way of life back then. You do something wrong, you get spanked. Or hit with a wooden spoon, paddle or belt. And God help you, if you made them really angry. Then you, “Got it” – and you got it good. In their simple ways, this is how some children viewed their lives. You tried to be good. And if you weren’t, you were punished. If you were good, maybe everything would just work out. Which would tolerable – if we lived in a world where all families lived the same lives, understood the same things and safely went to bed at night saying the same prayers for a better world and a solution to all our problems from our same dear Lord in heaven.
But life is not like that. It’s complicated. Life is beset with problems that occur naturally. And, people lead very differing lives. We also seem to create problems where none need exist and then some. We have weaknesses, desires, wants and needs that we try to fix, tame and fill in so many convoluted ways that often fail us. Like repeatedly patching a flat tire with every form of patch we can devise, but none of them really work.
In light of the mass shootings that have plagued our nation, we are screaming. Screaming for gun control. Screaming for Second Amendment rights. Screaming for “Someone to do something.” Look at us. It’s not just “those people.” It’s not just “pure evil.” It’s not just the guns. It’s not just the times we live in. It’s us. Each of us. All of us. It’s what and how we have taught (or not taught) our children collectively. It’s how we choose to act.
It appears that people today deal with anxiety, conflict, anger, loneliness, despair and the myriad of other negative feelings plaguing us by lashing out in emotional and physical violence. Road rage. Shootings. Stabbings. Arson. Revenge. Bullying. Lying. Words. Are we teaching our children to achieve a “feeling” of victory at all costs? Heck, some people think they’re winning something if they pass the car ahead!
There are correct ways to deal with emotions. Can we help our children collectively learn to recognize and handle emotional distress and conflict, not just appropriately, but effectively? Can we do it for ourselves so that we can set a good example? Shouldn’t they learn how to handle their feelings before they can handle a gun?
Our prisons are full. There are high suicide rates in young people. There is plenty of drug and alcohol abuse. There are many arms in the hands of the wrong people. Where are we going with this? Someone do something? You mean someone other than you?
As a first step, let’s humbly deal with our own human emotions and failings more correctly and effectively, getting help if needed, rather than repeatedly patching those old, flat, screaming tires. And, let’s help our kids. For me, the dish stopped here. Results begin with effort.
Marlene Wessel of Youngstown understands the need not to follow patterns imposed during youth.