In the aftermath of the second most deadly school shooting in U.S. history in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, we are all left with many more questions than answers. The images of devastated parents and scared kids force us to concoct explanations for our children in an attempt to make sense of an unthinkable act committed by a mentally-ill young man. The truth is that there is absolutely no good explanation. No silver lining. Not even the faithful can come up with a convincing reason why this happened.
Without minimizing what happened, let’s also make sure they understand that what is possible and what is probable are two very different things
- Mariela Dabbah
There’s no bigger loss than the loss of a child, so, understandably, parents all over the country wonder: Isn’t school supposed to be a safe haven, a place where you drop off your kids every morning assuming that they will be okay? Isn’t Newtown, Connecticut, a bucolic town with great schools, the kind of town people move to so their kids can receive a top notch education? But if a massacre of this proportion can take place in picturesque, quiet, Newtown, couldn’t it happen in my own town too?
Yes, it is possible. Mental health issues and easy access to automatic weapons aren’t circumscribed to a specific geographic area or social class. Until we pass a ban on automatic weapons and establish better measures to provide a safety net to the mentally unstable, this kind of event will continue to take place. The only consolation for parents might come from looking at the probability of this happening to their kids.
When I heard about the shooting I was at a conference in Manhattan. As I shared the news, one of my colleagues, Lisa Levey, a work-life consultant with a background in economics, said, “Right now, this is a time to reflect on how we deal with mental health in this country. But the only way to keep on living normally is to realize that the mathematical probability of this happening in your child’s school is close to zero.”
That’s right. According to the National Center for Health Statistics you’re much more likely to die in a car accident (1 in 100) than you are to die in a plane crash (1 in 20,000). Yet, the number of people who fear flying is much greater than those who fear riding in a car. (I suspect that’s largely because of how much more unusual and spectacular a plane crash is and how much media coverage it receives. And also, because car crashes are so probable that if you were to think about them all the time you wouldn’t leave your home.)
Likewise, the probability of a young person being injured or killed in a massacre like the one in Connecticut is way smaller (in 2012 there’s been a total of 32 school-shooting-related deaths including the ones in Newtown) than the probability of them dying in an accident (1,613 cases in children 5-14 in 2011) Yet we don’t keep kids locked inside to avoid them being run over by a car. In other words, despite what just transpired in Connecticut, our schools are still pretty safe places.
So let’s mourn the 27 people killed by an evil young man who I refuse to name in this article to deny him any recognition. Let’s allow our children to express their fears and let them know that some horrible acts cannot be explained other than by the fact that, as in this case, they were committed by a very sick person. And as we try to help our kids process this shocking event, and without minimizing what happened, let’s also make sure they understand that what is possible and what is probable are two very different things. As hard as it is to swallow the reality of what happened, we might get some peace in grasping this concept ourselves.
Mariela Dabbah’s latest book Poder de Mujer will be out in English April 2013 by Penguin. She’s the founder and CEO of Latinos in College, a not-for-profit organization, and of the Red Shoe Movement, an initiative that invites women to wear red shoes to work on Tuesday to signal their support for other women’s careers.