Parkland, Mr. Rogers and offering an 'expression of care'

In the wake of yet another mass shooting, the perennial debate over gun control has resurfaced with a vengeance. Much of the renewed vigor is coming from the students themselves who were targets of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 dead. Who can blame them?

Similar conversations have flared up after other events, most notably the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, that took the lives of 26 — 20 of them children.

In the weeks following Sandy Hook, this newspaper published an article weighing the pros and cons of gun control and looking at where the Church stood on the issue. Both sides were represented, with sources offering different viewpoints. One philosophical point that individuals in both camps agreed on, however, was the troubling reality of living in a culture that permits — and even celebrates — an excess of violence.

This ranges from violence in the womb to violence at the end of life and everywhere in between — like gun violence.

At the time, John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America, told OSV that cultivating a culture of life and building up strong families and young people of virtue are necessary components in the battle against gun violence.

“I think we have to take a look into our own hearts, because it is our fault for creating the kind of culture that we have,” he said.

I was thinking of these comments when I ran across video footage of testimony to Congress given by Fred Rogers of the beloved PBS series “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” (As a side note: 2018 marks 15 years since Rogers’ death and 90 years since his birth, and 50 years since the debut of the show.) The year was 1969, and Rogers was seeking increased funding for his show — what he referred to as “an expression of care.” He stated:

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“This is what I give. I give an expression of care every day to each child, to help him realize that he is unique. ... And I feel that if we in public television can only make it clear that feelings are mentionable and manageable, we will have done a great service for mental health. I think that it’s much more dramatic that two men could be working out their feelings of anger — much more dramatic than showing something of gunfire. I’m constantly concerned about what our children are seeing.”

Rogers’ “expression of care” was his way of cultivating a culture of life, building up families and helping young people live virtuously. And an entire generation is better for it.

Do we need to keep guns out of the hands of those who wish to do harm with them? Yes. But couldn’t we also make it a point — in our government and in our local communities and in our families — to give a better expression of care for our young people in the first place?

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