When a crazed gunman opened fire inside a Connecticut elementary school – murdering 26 children and adults – first grade teacher Vicki Soto responded with an astonishingly selfless act.
Upon hearing the first rounds of gunfire in an adjacent classroom, the 27-year-old teacher went into lockdown mode, quickly ushering her students into a closet. Then suddenly, as she came face to face with the gunman and the bullets flew, she used her body to shield the children.
Vicki Soto was found dead, huddled over her students, protecting them.
We all mourn this unspeakable tragedy.
Yet where did this young woman get the strength and conviction to perform such an extraordinary act of bravery?
-Rabbi Shraga Simmons
“A Hero in Connecticut”
The world we live in is certainly broken. This broken state is causing us to ask questions on ways to begin to fix it. The issues are complex and go way beyond single issues or problems like guns, video games, violence in movies, etc. The generational problems and patterns have brought us to this place. It will take new behaviors and patterns to eventually repair it. It will not come fast, or easy.
I think the world has become increasingly rude and mean. This has devastating effects on our culture—and leads to permanent scars and horrifying behaviors.
I recently read an article by Dr. Douglas Fields entitled, Rudeness is a Neurotoxin, where he states, “A disrespectful, stressful social environment is a neurotoxin for the brain and psyche, and the scars are permanent.”
“Why are Some People so Rude?”
Boaz wrote about one of my “favorite themes” on his personal blog earlier today, but in light of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut (which he was obviously alluding to) and the resulting verbal response (onslaught) in the news media and on the web, he probably didn’t take it far enough.
I don’t mean to say that rude people are potentially dangerous and violent people, but on the other hand, the Master had this today about both situations.
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.
–Matthew 5:21-22 (ESV)
Does anger equal murder? Certainly anger and jealousy has led to murder, including the first one ever recorded, but in adding rudeness to this discussion, am I taking things too far? Am I exaggerating my issues with rudeness? And what does any of this have to do with Vicki Soto and her courageous and selfless act of heroism?
One of the definitions of “rude” or “rudeness” at The Free Dictionary is “Ill-mannered; discourteous.” When we think of a rude person, it’s difficult not to think of someone who is more focused on their own emotional gratification than on the well-being of others. A rude person shoves and cuts in line. A rude person at a shared meal, takes the largest portion. A rude person reveals an embarrassing detail about a friend in public.
In other words, a rude person cares more about themselves than about others.
Kind of the opposite of 27-year old teacher Vicki Soto who purposely put herself in harm’s way and gave her life for the care and safety of small children. She literally used herself as a human shield, taking the bullets that would have otherwise penetrated the bodies of the tiniest, most cherished ones; our children (and they are all our children).
Boaz says on his blog, Rude people are not godly people. Then he continues:
A reminder from a biblical source:
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful …” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5 ESV)
A reminder through Jewish wisdom:
It is a mitzvah for every person to love every Jew as himself, as it is written “And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Therefore we must relate his virtues. To be concerned about his property the way we are about our own, and about his honor the way we are about our own. If a person glorifies himself in the shame of his neighbor even if his neighbor is not there, and the shame does not reach him, and is not embarrassed, but he compared his good deeds and his wisdom to compare with the good deeds, and wisdom of his neighbor, so that from this it may appear that he is a very honorable person and his neighbor a despicable person. This person has no share in the world to come, until he repents with complete repentance. (Kitzure Shulchan Aruch 29:12)
A reminder through apocryphal literature:
Yeshua said, “Love your brother like your soul, guard him like the pupil of your eye.” Gospel of Thomas 25
Rabbi Simmons summed up the life of Vicki Soto and her inspiration to us in this way.
Vicki Soto’s great act of devotion should inspire us to take 10 minutes today and ponder: “What am I living for?”
Finding the answer is a big project. But there’s no better use of our time and energy. Because if we don’t know what higher purpose we’re pursuing, then we’re living like zombies, just going through the motions.
Vicki Soto was up to the challenge. “She didn’t call them her students,” her sister Carlee told NBC. “She called them her kids. She loved those students more than anything.”
She loved her students so much that she referred to them as her “little angels.” In reaching the ultimate level of devotion and saving their lives, Vicki Soto reached beyond the angels.
When we get into our little “Internet spats” in the blogosphere, in discussion boards, or in social networking applications such as Facebook, we often believe we are fighting for what is really important to us. Somehow, we use that as a way to internally justify our rudeness. But as Rabbi Simmons points out, when we find something or someone, some small collection of “little angels” who really are important, then exhibiting behaviors indicative of selfishness and self-gratification doesn’t even enter the picture. Quite the opposite. Courage, like love, is selfless, patient, and kind. Like Vicki Soto, love and courage bears all things and endures all things.
And it never ends even though life may end.
But everything else we do ends. As Paul says, “As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. “ (1 Corinthians 13:8-10 ESV)
I have been trying to stop being so foolish as to participate in online interactions with human attack dogs. Vicki Soto’s remarkable self-sacrifice has provided me another reason not just to cease such fruitless activities, but to strive to become a better person, both in my private life and in my “blogging persona.”
Nothing I can say, no goal I could ever achieve, both professionally as a writer or in any personal sense could equal Vicki’s greatest qualities, which writer Archie Goodwin once described as:
“A human heart…and courage.”
Most of us will never find ourselves in a situation where we have to choose between our life and someone else’s, but as Rabbi Simmons suggests, we can take a few minutes out of our busy day to ask ourselves, “what am I living for?” If you want to give Vicki’s life and the lives of all who have suffered and died for the sake of love, caring, and compassion any sort of meaning, let your answer be to help another human being in some way, great or small.
And, to go Paul McCartney one better, in the end, may the love you make be greater than the love you take.