On March 5, 2001, Charles “Andy” Williams went to school armed with a .22 caliber revolver. On Thursday, August 14, 2002, “Andy” was sentenced to 50 years to life for the shooting deaths of two classmates and the wounding of thirteen others.
How could such a thing happen?
More that thirteen million children change primary residence every year. Charles “Andy” Williams was one of them. Several million children each year are directly impacted by the divorce of their parents. Charles “Andy” Williams was one of them. Millions of children are bullied and hectored by classmates at school every day. Charles “Andy” Williams was one of them. Moving, divorce, and feeling picked on, each represents major losses in the life of a young person. But each loss is typically met with ineffective clichés like, “Don’t feel bad - we’re moving to a bigger house” or, “Don’t feel bad, mommy and daddy both still love you.” Even the bullying is often met with, “Don’t feel bad, you have to stand up for yourself."
But those kinds of life changes do feel bad and they create emotional energy. “Don’t feel bad”, does very little to reduce the pressure. Like a steam kettle with no outlet to release the pent-up energy, there was a massive explosion and young Charles “Andy” Williams got a gun and went on a spree. Sometimes we are amazed that events like this do not happen more often. Thankfully they don’t. But we have to stop looking at them as flukes or statistical anomalies and see them for what they really are, the tip of a large iceberg. We must see that there are millions of much smaller explosions and implosions that don’t make the front page or the six o’clock news. It starts very early when a child comes home from pre-school, upset over an incident at the playground. The child says tearfully, “The other children were mean to me.” The well-meaning parent says, “Don’t feel bad, have a cookie, you’ll feel better.”
The problem is that a cookie doesn’t make a child feel better, it makes them feel different. It delivers a message that says when you have a sad feeling, you should eat something. Seems harmless until you match it up with the fact that there are more than 280,000 obesity related deaths in the United States every year. Is there a direct correlation between our childhood training to; “Don’t feel bad, have a cookie, you’ll feel better” and the fatal consequences in the obesity statistics? We think so. Should we pay closer attention to the amount of teen alcohol and drug abuse that is moving from epidemic to pandemic proportion? Is it realistic to suggest that the same incorrect idea about eating a cookie to deal with our sad feelings could lead to consuming alcohol and drugs as another ineffective way of dealing with our day-to-day emotions? We think so. It is too late for “Andy” Williams. It is too late for his victims and their families. On behalf of our children, the rest of us better wake up, and fast.