Guest Post: Connecting and Caring in Abilene... and Everywhere
[This article originally appeared in the Abilene Reporter News on February 2, 2018]
We are having the conversation again. We are having them all too frequently.
After the Florida school shooting, we again are engaged in emotional discussions, sharing strong opinions. We hear shouting and read social media posts IN ALL CAPS! Invariably the arguments involve national politics and demand policy changes.
I am writing about something different, something important yet often absent from the conversations. I am talking about something simple, but not necessarily easy.
I'm talking about connecting and caring. I'm talking about intentionally looking for broken people on the margins and in the shadows of our communities.
That's it. Connecting. Caring. And by anyone's measure, this is a highly effective deterrent to people shooting up a school. Last week's Reader's Digest shared this headline: "One Teacher's Brilliant Strategy to Stop Future School Shootings--and It's Not About Guns."
Her brilliant strategy? She takes the time and effort to look out for the lonely in her school.
Connecting and caring get lost in the conversation because caring is not political. Connecting with people does not involve shouting. Caring for people is not a policy that depends on the ambiguous "they," as in "they" need to fix this. This can be done no matter what politicians do, or don't do. Caring and connecting depends on one person. The one in the mirror.
So many people connect with and care for other people. But you won't hear their stories if all you do is shout and argue. Be active in politics and policy-making, sure. But not to the exclusion of caring and connecting with people. Instead of honing your skills of persuasion on Facebook, invest your time connecting with people.
Retired Abilene High School Principal Royce Curtis is a volunteer mentor of teenagers. In a recent televised interview, one of his proteges said Royce is "the little light" she follows.
Aaron Shaver and Janet Mendenhall, Community Coordinators for a local nonprofit (aptly named Connecting Caring Communities [CCC]) spend time with families in specific neighborhoods. They have moved into CCC's targeted areas of Abilene to be good neighbors and promote a safer, caring neighborhood.
Terry Cagle, executive director of CCC, says getting to know people and looking out for those on the margins, or in the shadows, is not hard once you decide it's what you're going to do. Terry says rather than trying to "fix" people, nonprofits should invest in mutually supportive friendships. That's what connecting and caring look like.
Abilene has hundreds of churches, nonprofits, schools, civic groups and individuals who connect and care daily.
It is not true that there is nothing good in this world or there's no hope for the future. If all you do is argue, you are complicit in promoting that false narrative.
I spoke with an Abilene friend who took her nephew, a teen destined for trouble, into her home. Because of his aunt's brilliant strategy of love and connection, he is walking a much better path and will join the Navy.
And the deeply troubled school shooter in Florida? There are complex dynamics involved including access to weapons and mental health. But what if he had a little light, a teacher, or a Royce, Aaron, Janet or Terry looking out of him? I don't know his story fully. Perhaps he had many lights, but it certainly appears he was in the dark, both desperately lonely and tragically broken.
And it appears many people passed him off with not much care or connection. Search for "churches" near that high school and you'll find twenty within walking distance. I wonder how many times the shooter was invited into the youth groups? Maybe he was, and he declined. Or it might be no one reached out to a kid who was on the margins and in the shadows.
All the while people loudly argue over politics and policies. All those things "they" should do.
Don't mistake arguing and shouting for action. Don't overlook desperately lonely and tragically broken people. Connecting and caring is simple, but not always easy. It's not politics, it's not a policy depending on anyone else. Connecting and caring are actions for you and me.
Danny Sims is Operations Manager for KTAB-KRBC-Telemundo Abilene. He has contributed to the Abilene Reporter News previously and served as a pastor and nonprofit leader. He currently serves as a Board Member for CCC and leads a house church in Abilene.