Spirituality &
Social Change

Twelve Years After Columbine

Sunday, April 19, 2011 marked the twelth anniversary of the school shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado. Shortly after the shootings, I wrote an essay about the incident which is attached with this update perspective.

What have we learned as a result of the innocent loss of thirteen lives and numerous serious injuries in Colorado ten years ago? Well, we’ve tightened school security nationwide and made it more difficult to get guns into schools.

But what have we really learned about why young men go off the deep end with terrifying violence. My sense is that as a nation we still have not addressed in any meaningful and sustained way what is happening today. See Young Men document attached.

Rather than decreasing, homicide and suicide among young men are on the rise. It is rising for white, Native American, Hispanic and African American males. But I don’t see or hear about the national education and psychological associations addressing this issue in any kind of focused and sustained way.

The facts themselves are alarming. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for males ages 16-24. Males are four times more likely than females to take their own lives. Today in the United States, we have twice as many deaths from suicide than from HIV/AIDS.

A sign that all is not well with young men is this shocking fact—in the last decade there has been a dramatic rise in suicides by males aged 10-14. The male nature of both suicide and homicide is evident in the following statistics.

Native American males aged 15-24 account for 64% of all suicides by Native Americans. Of all homicide victims in the United States, 86% are males. In Pennsylvania in a recent year, with a total of 490 African American homicides, 441 were African American males.

The conclusion from the data is clear. Young men are killing themselves with increasing frequency and the problem has now spiked sharply with the 10-14 year old males.

The other conclusion is that young men are killing other young men with increasing frequency.

Where do we go from here? We have the Violence Policy Center which keeps good statistics on suicide and homicide. But its main focus is gun control and more regulation of guns.

But I believe we as a nation must face up to the truth that the breakdown among young men cannot be explained away by the availability of guns in the culture.

Why are young men killing themselves and killing each other with increasing frequency. And why is suicide steadily rising in the pre-teen male?

It can’t be explained away by social class arguments. The Columbine shooters were upper middle class suburban youth. And many of the recent mass shootings by men against the innocents were done not by poor men but by middle class men with education and conventional life styles.

Perhaps the answer is to be found in the paralysis of feeling among young males. The inability to open their hearts to the pain of life in their own family and their community. Men are taught not to feel. Men don’t cry. Suck it up! Act like a man!

Models of vibrant and healthy masculine behavior seem to be in short supply in American culture. Urbanization and the disconnectedness of life in suburban America create a sense of emptiness and aloneness. Loneliness. “What do I have to live for” seems to be the question more and more boys and young men are asking themselves these days.

My experience is that young males feel disconnected and alienated from older males. Rather than seeing mid-life and older men as “wisdom keepers” and mentors, young men tend to view older males with suspicion, indifference or scorn. Our dilemma as a society is that boys and young men can’t fix their own problem – nor is it realistic to expect them to “pull themselves up by the bootstraps.”

Perhaps it is time for Rotary International to make this their number one national priority. Maybe the bishops and clergy of the Catholic and Protestant church in America need to step up and make this their priority.

I would personally like to see the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the National Education Association or the National

Association of Social Workers make this their priority.

Why not have the Obama administration create a czar for the “survival of the young American male.”

We have an excellent national mentorship program called “America’s Promise” -- headed by former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Maybe saving the young American male could be their priority? Will anyone step up? When Betty Freidan wrote the ground-breaking book The Feminine Mystique which ignited the women’s movement in the United States in the 1960’s, she described the plight of middle class women as “the problem that has no name.”

Today, we again have “a problem that has no name.” It is all about boys and young men and our failure as adults to give them what they need.

©2010, Forrest Craver

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Man becomes great exactly in the degree to which he works for the welfare
of his fellow man. - Mahatma Gandhi

Forrest Craver has been doing men’s work for more than 20 years. He was senior interviewer for Wingspan: Journal of the Male Spirit for many years. He has led or co-led more than 40 retreats or workshops for men including The Mankind Project, Men in Recovery, and regional clergy retreats for United Methodist and ELCA denominations. He is a lawyer and a nationally recognized fundraising consultant for nonprofit groups. He is the author of a short book of Spiritual Poetry entitled “This Well Has No Bottom” and is finishing a book about intergenerational breakthrough approaches for boys and men in American culture. His websites are cravercreativeservices.com/and transitioncolorado.ning.com/profile/forrestcraver or eMail.He lives and works in the Denver metro area.

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