Thursday, April 10, 2014

Update to Yesterday's Mass Stabbing

Yesterday I posted about a "mass stabbing" at a high school near Pittsburgh. As tends to be the case with such emergencies, initial information was incomplete. I don't necessarily retract what I wrote then, but I've gotten some additional perspective which raises some new thoughts.

A college classmate of mine was an alum of that high school. She still knows many people in the area, and spoke to some of the families, including some who had witnessed the event. She assured me that the school did have an emergency plan in place, and that both school kids and (most importantly) the adults in the building acted quickly and appropriately. We can yet hope that as a result none of the casualties in this case become deaths (although a few are apparently in critical condition at local hospitals).

Assuming this to be true (and I have no reason to doubt my friend's report), this raises a couple of additional and related observations. First, the chaos point still holds. Despite the best-laid plans executed as well as possible, a 16 year old student with two knives (apparently kitchen knives, from recent reports) was able to seriously injure 20 fellow students, four of them critically. I still suspect that the number, and the stabber's ability to move about the school in doing so, is due to the initial chaos. A plan is only good once someone figures out what's going on and "pushes the button" to activate it. That undoubtedly took some time, time in which the violence could continue largely unabated.

This leads to a broader observation about the asymmetry of violence - something I've written about before. My claim then: Real security is hard - 100% security is impossible. This case tragically proves that point. As much as we need to be prepared, individually and organizationally, to mitigate these kinds of cases we delude ourselves if we think there is a "magic bullet" (arming teachers, better emergency plans, metal detectors, what have you) that is going to keep everybody safe 100% of the time. It is a tragic reality of our world that if someone is truly bent on causing mayhem and destruction, they will succeed to some degree. We may be able to influence that degree at the margin, but once you've reached that point you can't stop it from happening entirely unless you get very, very lucky.

Which leads to the final observation - one which NRA supporters and detractors can, I suspect, agree on. The real source of violence lies in the human heart. The answer therefore ultimately lies in real connections between people. I don't yet know who this boy was, or why he did this terrible thing. But other people did know him, before he came to this pass in his life. That's not to lay blame on parents, or friends, or teachers - this isn't about figuring out "who's at fault". But it is to say that the only real solution to violence we have is in healing the hearts of the people around us. And that, far more than guns or police or martial arts, is hard. But it is something we should dedicate ourselves to nevertheless, every day and whether we touch the heart of one person or twenty.

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