ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–It has happened again. A troubled young man has taken a gun and vented his anger on innocent bystanders.
According to a variety of reports, 19-year-old Robert Hawkins entered a store located in an Omaha, Neb., mall and began randomly firing an AK47 rifle. Six minutes later eight people lay dead. Hawkins then turned the gun on himself and took his own life.
Reports indicate that Hawkins had experienced a troubled past. Most recently his long-time girl friend had broken up with him and he was fired from a job at McDonald’s. Additionally, Hawkins was scheduled to appear in court later in December on possessing alcohol as a minor. He also had a felony drug conviction.
Some believe the recent acceleration of negative circumstances caused Hawkins to snap and provided the motivation for his killing spree.
Hawkins’ deadly rampage is the most recent in a string of violent incidents perpetrated by seemingly despondent young men that have taken place over the past decade or so.
Most of us are familiar with the more high-profile cases like the Columbine massacre that took place in 1999 or the shooting spree at Virginia Tech which took place in April of this year. However, the website infoplease.com lists 40 similar incidents that have occurred since 1996.
With rare exception, the killing sprees listed on infoplease.com were conducted by young males who were experiencing some kind of social difficulty or dysfunction at the time of the shootings.
Besides being male and despondent, the only other common denominator the young shooters have is their age. Again, with rare exception, they have all been in their mid to late teens or early 20s. This means they came of age at a time when society was focused on bolstering the self-image of children,
In the mid-80s mental health experts insisted that children must be sheltered from competitive environments. They believed that if little Johnny lost a game of kickball, his ever-so fragile ego might be bruised. As a result, many youth athletic leagues adopted a policy where no scores were kept. Everyone was considered a winner.
Of course, every kid on the team had equal playing time. Participation trophies and awards became the norm because everyone was considered a champion. There were no losers.
Rough and competitive games were even banned from the playground. Tag was banished because the slow kids were at a disadvantage. The same went for dodgeball; the less coordinated kids just could not compete and even might get hurt.
Correcting school work with red ink became taboo. All that red was deemed harsh and demeaning. Purple was the preferred color for correction. It was said to be a kinder and gentler color.
The experts continue to tout the self-esteem agenda. And too many parents continue to buy the line of the self-esteem gurus. Today’s children are rarely at fault for anything. If there is trouble at school, the child is just not being understood properly. Bad grades must be the teacher’s fault because today’s kids are all brilliant.
What does all this emphasis on self-esteem have to do with young men and shooting sprees? The self-esteem that society has peddled for the past two decades has been nothing more than superficial, feel-good emotionalism. It has nothing to do with true self-esteem.
Self-esteem comes from striving, working and achieving. Along the way it entails overcoming difficulty and bouncing back from failure. Self-esteem comes from taking responsibility and accepting accountability. It cannot be conveyed or passed out like participation trophies. Instead, it must be earned.
Could it be that many of the young men who have taken up guns and killed innocent people over the past decade did so because they never learned how to properly deal with set-backs and disappointment? Could it be they never learned to build their own self-esteem?
I am not trying to offer a simplistic reason for why a young man would kill innocent people — and then take his own life. However, I do think the recent emphasis on so-called self-esteem is a component that should be considered.
It is time to stop trying to dispense self-esteem to our children and help them lean how to earn it.
Someone with a healthy self-esteem is someone who has learned how to face disappointment and difficulty and move on with life. A person with true self-esteem does not take a gun and slaughter innocent people.
Kelly Boggs, whose column appears each week in Baptist Press, is editor of the Baptist Message, the newspaper of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.