Why do we value our differences rather than our similarities? Do our differences define us and make us unique? Is that more important than our similarities, which make us more empathetic and compassionate? Which gives us greater happiness? Or do we
need to balance both? In “The Art of Happiness,” the Dalai Lama felt true happiness came from increased awareness of our connectedness. This awareness opened the door to greater understanding and support. There is no conflict between the two; it is a matter of balance.
In this country, individualism and independence are treasured gems, possibly, because
of our competitive and capitalistic nature. Our differences determine success versus
failure. Think about it! Individuality and independence define the range of “who we are,” from the homeless person to the President of this country, and all the other great, and ordinary people in between. Those individual differences produce diversity and culture, great chefs, musicians and scientists. There is no doubt individuality is important, however, there is a price if taken to an extreme.
An adult, who upon meeting another only sees the differences often make others feel uncomfortable, compounding inner beliefs of unworthiness and lack of self-esteem.
While not immediately obvious, this type of thinking perpetuates discrimination and prejudice, “Me versus Them.” Now imagine a child, in the first five years of life, internalizing these experiences and concepts that are omnipresent in his world. What effect will such thinking have on child’s perception? Let’s delve further and imagine this child growing up in this chaotic, angry and verbally abuse environment, without experiencing countering events or interventions that could negate and pound away at the maladaptive foundation formed by his social and physical world. This is a child who is
at higher risk for bullying, violence, behavioral problems, substance abuse,
depression and suicide. Those early lessons are deeply embedded in his brain and
will dictate many of his actions, feelings and behaviors. Children, teenagers and even young adults often don’t understand their feelings, let alone the etiology. Instead, they act
out those feelings which range from withdrawn and quiet, to downright destructive, violent behaviors.
In the US, there are more than 50 million children who spend on average of 6 hours a day in school 5 days a week. Schools are very important climates that grow in importance as children get older. Yet, schools are becoming not only unsafe and painful but a burgeoning gateway into the criminal justice system. The 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) of students in grades 9-12, reported 22 % of students were bullied on school property during the past 12 months. In this survey, 7% of students, both boys and
girls, admitted to being forced to have sex. They were raped on school property.
About 70 % of students have drunk one or more alcoholic beverages in the last 12
months; fifteen percent had their first drink before age 13; 4% had at least one drink on school property within the past 30 days. Twenty-three percent of students sold drugs
on school property.
One in five students experience depression during the past 12 months, and over one
in ten students have seriously considered attempting suicide. Suicide is the second or third leading cause of death in 15-24 and 25-34 year olds; unintentional death is the leading cause of death in age groups 1-4, 10-14, 15-24, 25-34, 35-44 year olds. Ninety-percent of people who committed suicide have mental, alcohol and substance abuse
problems. What are schools doing about this? Many schools don’t feel the social
and emotional well-being of their students is their responsibility. What do you think?
Each day, we read, watch, and see our children struggling without guidance. Many in education do not realize the world has changed and education has not kept up.
The reactionary approach is destroying our children’s future.
So you say, “What does that have to do with me versus us?” ‘Me’ leaves children suffering alone and not reaching out. ‘Us’ connects children to their peers and adults, creates feelings of belonging and support, which bolster well-being and resilience. Which child
is likely to be at a higher risk for the maladies of our society?
Angela Crane, M.D.