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TRAGEDY IN COLORADO

Clinton Bares His Own Scars in Student Discussion Group

April 23, 1999|EDWIN CHEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — He came to feel their pain, but in the process revealed his own.

Two days after the massacre in Colorado, President Clinton participated in a discussion on school violence with about 30 students at T.C. Williams, a large and diverse northern Virginia high school.

Although the president did more listening than talking, his off-the-cuff, often philosophical remarks offered a rare glimpse into the mind of a man who survived an acrimonious impeachment trial that culminated four years of partisan wrangling with a Republican Congress.

"One of the things that all kids are taught by their parents, you know, is this old 'Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me,' " Clinton said.

"That ain't true, if you'll let me use bad grammar," the president added amid laughter.

"That's not true, because a lot of this stuff starts with words, you know?"

Alluding to his own political travails, Clinton added:

"And even in what I do, and the people I deal with, it's amazing how much energy is lost and how many things are not done for America because people in Washington, D.C., at the highest levels of power and influence, get hurt by what other people say about them--mean, bad things other people say about them. And then they get in the position where they try to bait each other to say mean, bad things."

The president urged adults to "do a better job of teaching young people not to let themselves be defined by the words other people use against them."

At another point, Clinton referred to reports that the Littleton, Colo., assailants felt ostracized and alienated, and said:

"They had the wrong reaction to the fact that they were dissed. Look, everybody gets dissed sometime in life--even the president--sometimes especially the president."

The president also urged students, especially young men, to express their feelings.

"I can tell you from having lived a lot more years, this is a big problem later in life too. Sometimes it's a bigger problem for men than for women because of the cultural sort of preconceptions of our society," he said.

"If you don't learn to talk about your feelings when you're young, and you don't have a constructive outlet for it, it just gets harder and harder and harder as you get older. . . . You'd be amazed how many people my age, in very responsible positions, still can't manage their anger because they never learned to have a constructive way to talk about it."

Expressing displeasure is not a big problem for Clinton. He is known for towering eruptions of rage that (according to thankful aides) quickly pass.

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