The national self-searching in the wake of last week's shooting and bombing rampage by two students at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., has been intense. The media have interviewed experts in adolescent psychology, school violence, and law enforcement. Numberless conversations have taken place at dinner tables, lunch counters, and on street corners about what lies behind such acts of senseless violence and what can be done to prevent them.
All of this is of value. The country has to engage in this dialogue with itself. If more parents are made aware of the need to understand their children's trends of thought, all to the good. If teachers and administrators become more inquiring of possible antisocial tendencies among students, good. If students take a step away from youthful stereotyping toward recognizing that tensions between individuals and groups need to be resolved, not reveled in, wonderful.
In this way, the work of filling moral voids in the lives of many young people can begin. The Littleton school tragedy, and those that preceded it, should push more Americans toward realizing we don't live in isolation. We have to take an interest in helping one another - and, particularly, in helping children, ours and others', develop worthwhile lives.
This impulse has to be strong enough to break through fear and cynicism. It's all too easy to say, despairingly, that thousands of kids fit at least part of the profile of the Littleton pair - a fascination with guns, a taste for unusual dress, or an obsession with shoot-'em-up video games. But there's nothing inevitable about mayhem in our schools.
The work of schools, after all, is the polar opposite of that - ingraining skills needed to be useful, productive members of society. Schools also have a role in strengthening the moral component that enables young people to discern between right and wrong. But that crucial task is much more centered in the home, and in the church.
The tendency to apportion blame is strong at a time like this. Why didn't the parents know and act? Why didn't school officials or the police do more?
The imperative, however, is what each of us do now. It helps to recognize that many Americans are already working to turn around young lives, and that many schools are striving to make their students safer, and more tolerant. We need to hear those stories as well.
Many of us will start and persist with prayer - asking God's help and knowing we'll receive it, and then following where that inspiration takes us.
Every newly motivated parent, teacher, and student helps diminish the possibility of future such events.