By Joseph M. Costa, Hillsides CEO
There is a fine line between vigilance and paranoia. We were reminded this week by the alleged shooting plot at South Pasadena High School that a great deal of caution and fair amount of suspicion can go a long way to keep a community safe. As a result of the vigilance of school officials, what might have been dismissed just a few years ago as an expression of adolescent bravado was taken seriously and tragedy was averted.
School officials in South Pasadena were right to act on any knowledge of plans to endanger the safety of students and staff. In a culture of ubiquitous violence, no conversation indicating a plot to do harm can be dismissed or disregarded. Our world in general has had to adapt to an environment where threats have been acted on, resulting in inconceivable tragedy.
What is the impact of living in such a vulnerable and precarious environment? For some, the only possible response is to be suspicious, defensive, and intensify a resolve to protect. This approach can lead to isolation, which only feeds paranoia. It is an understandable reaction but ironically poises individuals and communities for an escalation in violence. If this instinct to defend is counterproductive, then what is the remedy to such threats?
There are no simple solutions. Certainly vigilance is part of any strategy to maintain safe communities. The other elements are dialogue and communication in an effort to try to identify the root of such violence and develop meaningful and effective solutions. What would motivate an adolescent to contemplate such violence? What is the root cause of such antipathy that doing harm becomes a possibility?
South Pasadena is a wonderful place where neighbors take the time to know each other and a sense of well-being is a hallmark. In fact, we are moving our Family Resource Center in Pasadena to South Pasadena in the fall and we look forward to becoming part of this close-knit community. It is this sense of community together with a commitment to be vigilant against possible threats that averted tragedy and will serve as the foundation to examine why such a threat existed in the first place.
It is not unusual at Hillsides to deal with children and families who have experienced trauma as a result of violence. Each time I hear of what so many have endured I am amazed at their ability to move on in spite of the lingering concerns that the violence may be repeated. Safety is the paramount consideration in the development of any successful plan to treat the children and families we serve. However, It is important in our efforts to be safe that we don’t become so cautious as to rob us of hope for a full and happy life.
For South Pasadena, as for Hillsides, the key to sustaining a safe environment is open dialogue. Such communication leads to a better understanding of the challenges we face and increases the engagement of all sectors of the community in order to develop an effective solution.
It is very fortunate that tragedy was averted. The South Pasadena community, its school officials, and law enforcement are to be commended. This incident should serve as the catalyst for greater study and increased resolve to further assure a safe community for all residents as we all walk that line between vigilance and paranoia.