By Ed Vasicek
When I was a child, I loved Dr. Seuss. There was a point in time when I probably could have recited the storyline of “Green Eggs and Ham.” Another popular Dr. Seuss story was “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.”
Dr. Seuss’ character, the “Grinch,” resents how the citizens of Whoville exuberantly celebrate Christmas while he – living the lifestyle of a recluse – experienced no Christmas joy. He determined to disguise himself as Santa and snatch Christmas presents in the wee hours of Christmas Day. Although he succeeds in his mission, he is shocked to observe the citizens of Whoville celebrating the day with great gladness. His heart multiplies in size, and he comprehends that Christmas is more than gifts. He speedily returns the presents and embraces the celebration, joining hands with the “Whos.”
For many in Connecticut, this Christmas will be anything but joyful; parents and loved ones will be sobbing and grieving the loss of a child or family member. Adam Lanza – the perpetrator of this horrid crime – has succeeded where the Grinch failed. He has not only ruined the season, he devastated lives.
As I began thinking about Adam, my mind went back to the Virginia Tech shooting, Columbine, and other similar massacres. “What,” I asked myself, “do these have in common?” I have concluded that the most significant commonality is this: the perpetrators of such crimes were socially impoverished.
Adam Lanza sometimes participated in computer-game tournaments, but this should not be confused with a social life. Many children and teens are being nurtured in an environment of video game after video game, training them in violence while precluding them from normal social development.
Connecting to others develops our sense of compassion: excessive gaming displaces participating in sports, board games, bike rides, or hanging out. Adam Lanza was not a candidate for mass murder because he played video games, but he was a candidate because of what he did NOT do, namely, develop a social conscience.
By being social, we learn that the universe does not revolve around us – and that others feel pain the same as we do. Of course, things may not be that simple. Cho, who perpetrated the Virginia Tech massacre, was diagnosed as mentally ill. Rumors suggest that Lanza may have struggled with Autism, making social connections difficult. Some children who have such a condition can be taught how to connect, yet there is no universal cure all.
It does seem evident that we are raising growing numbers of children without a social conscience – even in religious families. Kids with low self-esteem and poor family lives are tempted to join gangs. Socially marginal kids can end up displaying unsurpassed cruelty and coldness toward others. Whether they are bullied at school or identify with less-than-social fringe groups, they can find it too easy to terminate their lives in a blaze of misery and infamy. If they can’t be happy, they are going to make as many others unhappy as they exit.
In a sense, Christmas points the way toward reducing disconnectedness. I am not claiming Christmas is a cure all, but when family and friends connect and are concerned, when peace on earth is championed as a virtue, and when we initially display goodwill toward men, we teach social compassion. When we take our kids caroling, participate in a choir or nativity program, wrap gifts for the unfortunate, read the Christmas story or sing carols around the tree, we teach our family members that it is not just about us. We are not in the center, and our world is extroverted, not an introverted world of video games.
Although Christmas is first and foremost a Christian holiday, it is also a secular one. As a Christian, I believe that Jesus came to earth to save his people from their sins. Non-Christians may see it otherwise, but most acknowledge the importance of family, being social, and intentionally showing compassion toward others. To all I say, “Merry Christmas, despite the grinches!
Ed Vasicek is pastor of Highland Park Church and a weekly contributor to the Kokomo Tribune. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.