The tragedy of denying basic human sameness – some deep thoughts in response to the elementary school shooting

Yesterday I had no words. Today I do. Here are some of the things I have read in response to the sad shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

“What monster would open fire on Kindergarteners?”
“For the gunman no circle in hell is deep enough!”
“A typical berserker…”
“One can not possibly understand this.”
“I wonder why the police don’t do more to take people like this out before they turn violent.”

Those comments are representative of many more that I have read along the very same lines. And the thing I notice the most about those comments is that they suggest that someone who would shoot innocent people, innocent children must be inherently different than everyone else. Inherently different than “normal people”. A monster. A berserker. A beast. A devil. Not human. Someone who deserves hell. Someone who is so different that he can’t be understood. Someone who is so different he could even have been singled out beforehand, had police only looked properly.

That makes my stomach turn. I suppose I can understand the sentiment – after all people are shocked and sad and upset and blaming is probably the easiest possible reaction, especially when the emotions are overwhelmed. But even when I understand where the attitude comes from, it still makes my stomach turn.

Isn’t this us vs. them thinking just what fuels such tragedies? Isn’t that what makes people’s hearts go cold and withdraw all compassion and understanding? All willingness to even try and understand? Isn’t a world that singles people out for being “different”, for not belonging with the “normal and good people”, isn’t that ultimately a world in which a sense of community and commonality is defined by excluding others? And don’t you think this increases the likelihood that among those who are excluded, there will be people who feel so alienated from everyone else, and so desperate, that they stop to feel connected? And isn’t stopping to feel connected just what enables people to do such horrible things?

I believe with all my heart that even people who do really, really bad and awful things, are people too. The same as everyone else. The same as you and me. They have feelings. They have a history. They have the same needs and wants. And I believe that ultimately they are people with their own demons hunting them down. People who are in their very own black place. A place so black, that is so desperate and disconnected and tainted by a history of nourishing whatever emotions make them snap, that eventually taking a gun and killing others seems like a viable option.

But that’s not the behavior of monsters. That’s perfectly human thinking and feeling there.

I strongly believe that everyone who says they “can’t understand” must be disconnected from part of their own humanness. Or have led a really, really sheltered life.

Doesn’t everyone know what despair feels like? Know what hate feels like? What feeling deeply wronged feels like? What wanting revenge feels like? What wanting to do something drastic feels like? What wanting to get rid of someone or something for good feels like? What not caring about another human being feels like? In fact, everyone who feels a sense of satisfaction at the gunman’s death and wishes him eternal hell should know only too well what that feels like.

That most people have emotions and thoughts in place that prevent them to act upon those destructive feelings doesn’t make them fundamentally different. It just makes them be in a better place, emotionally. But doesn’t being in a better place mean that they are, at least in part, also a little bit responsible for helping those who are worse off?

I believe that a world in which people who are in a terrible place would meet genuine understanding and compassion and help would be a world that would decrease the likelihood of someone eventually going over the edge like this. I believe that a world in which everyone can feel that they are included and taken care of and protected, in which people try to understand everyone’s basic sameness inside instead of alienating others over the way they behave, a world in which everyone would feel like they have a place that gets valued and appreciated, even if they can’t contribute much or nothing at the time, I believe that such a world would be a world where this kind of thing were less likely to happen.

The way things are, however, this doesn’t look likely. Keeping the basic sameness in mind and wanting to understand one another aren’t really popular things to do. “I can’t understand this” is a way of saying “this person is so different that I can not relate”. Somebody who feels like nobody can relate to them doesn’t feel like they belong with everyone else anymore. And someone who feels disconnected like this, why would this person in turn see any basic sameness?

I believe that even when one person aims the gun and pulls the trigger in the end, society as a whole is jointly responsible for putting the gun in his hand in the first place. And not because of gun laws, but because of what’s missing from our society. The awareness that we are all basically the same, deep down. The awareness that we are responsible for each other. And the awareness that we are all born the same – able to do lots of good and able to do lots of bad – and that by alienating someone, they slip on the bad side all to easily. People are slipping through the holes all the time. People feel alienated. People manage to go by years and years without anybody caring enough to notice something is wrong with them. Sometimes people actively seek for help and get denied.  I think it is not the humans who get worse and worse. I think it is society as a whole going in a direction that means more and more people end up in really bad places.

In my eyes, that is a terrible tragedy in and of itself. And maybe on an even grander scale than that of the innocent lives lost, because it includes all the lives that are yet to be taken, but will eventually, if things stay the same.

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28 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. nobodysreadingme
    Dec 15, 2012 @ 13:16:26

    This is a really brave post. Lola. I don’t think you’ll get many fans, but I admire your courage.
    I’m not a member of the hang ’em and flog ’em brigade. I don’t believe that Adam Lantz (was that the name of the alleged killer? Let’s not forget it’s still sub judice) was insane. I do believe he was evil, thoroughly bad. Do I rejoice that he’s dead as well? Not really, because it changes nothing. Things remain the same.
    We all get mad, alienated, angry, vengeful, yes, but the mindset that takes revenge on children is truly incomprehensible.
    Take him out before he does any harm? Oh no, slippery slope there. I’d probably have been taken out by now if the criteria are irrational behaviour..
    Of course I might feel different if one of the children had been mine.
    Well done.

    • Lola
      Dec 15, 2012 @ 14:13:18

      Thank you, Duncan. I suppose I’m not out to get many fans if in order to get them I would have to to deny something I believe is really important. I’m kind of used to people considering my reasoning weird anyway, so…

      But having said that, I can understand where the hang ’em and flog ’em people come from. I think understanding that sentiment is part of our basic human sameness, too. I understand that they are in shock and enraged and in terrible pain and that revenge gives people a feeling of gratification. I guess it’s human and I suppose that on some level each and everyone knows those feelings. I’m no exception for sure. Understanding is not the same as agreeing with something, though. Sometimes it feels like this is something people get confused about.

      Like, what if inside the shooter had the emotional developmental age of a kindergartener himself. Only because he was in a big body and had access to grown-up people’s weapons, doesn’t mean his emotional life was mature, after all. In fact, HAD his emotional life been mature, he would never have done anything like this, because that’s just not what mature people do. So what if something overwhelmed him so much that the only solution to the problem he could see was “destroy them all”, just in the fashion a child would think, reduced to his own self-centered feelings and view? I find it comprehensible. I think even something horrible and barbaric like that can be understood. Does that mean I agree with what he did? HELL, NO! Does that mean I excuse him? NOT AT ALL! Does that mean I feel one iota less sympathy and heartbreak for the families who will never be the same due to those terrible and senseless losses and for the children who had all their life ahead of them and who are now dead, for no other reason than that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time? NOT IN THE VERY LEAST! My heart breaks for them and it makes me incredibly sad and I wish such a horrible thing would never have happened and would never, ever happen again, anywhere in the world!!

      I guess the only thing I think is that even in tragedy, people should remember that people who do horrific things are people too. Humans, just like us. And that for some reason our society doesn’t manage to catch people who slip through the holes so much that they end up in such a disastrous mindset like that shooter did, without anyone noticing. Making them out as evil and un-human isn’t going to help. Because in order to help and prevent such tragedies from happening again, one needs to understand. I guess that’s all I’m saying.

      Thank you, again, for your reply and your thoughts, Duncan.

  2. nobodysreadingme
    Dec 15, 2012 @ 14:29:05

    I never claimed he wasn’t human. I did say he was evil. I genuienly believe that some people are simply inherently evil.
    I like the idea of him being of the emotional stage of development of a schoolchild, but I’m not sure it holds water. Certainly children can be angry and violent, but most of them don’t want to get rid of all the others. I’ve certainly never encountered it. Even fairly young children have at least a rudimentary understanding of this.
    Did he know that what he was doing was wrong? Dunno. But if he did he just didn’t give a monkey’s.
    and if he was so emotionally disengaged, what the hell was he doing being allowed to have not one, not two, but three guns?
    But let’s not stray into the area of gun control. Though I have been on the NRA website today. It’s very quiet indeed

    • Lola
      Dec 15, 2012 @ 14:59:30

      I’m very sorry, I did not mean to imply I thought you claimed he wasn’t human. That was only the impression I got from comments I read that called him “monster” etc., instead of referring to the act as monstrous (which I agree with. A very, terribly monstrous act.) I guess I genuinely believe that any human is born capable of doing incredible good and incredible evil, but that the action is not the same as the person.

      Yes, and I totally agree that most schoolchildren would be way more mature than to want to get rid of all others. Most schoolchildren would be able (or at least start to be able) to put themselves into the shoes of others and see the consequences for them and empathize with them, too, which would prevent them from ever doing such a thing. But I certainly know the feeling of wanting to get rid of everyone and being unable to consider anyone else because of deep emotional pain and feelings so intense I could hardly stand them, and even when I am embarrassed to admit it, I have hurt others because of it. Sure, I never killed anyone, never even came close to, but i believe the principle is the same – just not caring for anyone else at that moment, or even being unable to see them, while feeling extreme things. I don’t know if that means that I am inherently evil. Or if someone who has the same issue on a larger scale that leads to a tragedy such as this is inherently evil. The act is, but I don’t know about the person. (But that’s just me! Everyone may think differently, of course. I certainly don’t know if I’m right. It’s just what I believe.)

      As for why he was allowed to have three guns? Well, I guess that one ties in with living in a society where people value lots of things (like money, profit, convenience, saving their own ass…) more than being in touch with one another, including everyone and noticing what’s really going on. I think it’s unlikely anyone who sold him a gun cared one bit about who he was and what mental state he was in. And if one person actually cared and denied him a gun, he would have easily found someone else who didn’t care, as long as he had the necessary bucks to pay the guns with! And I bet that the NRA website is rather quiet today.

    • mm172001
      Dec 16, 2012 @ 02:06:20

      I have read that the guns were registered to his mother and he took them from the house after he killed her there.

      • Lola
        Dec 16, 2012 @ 08:16:11

        I think a person who really WANTS a gun and plans ahead will always manage to come by a gun. Someone else’s gun, the mother’s gun, an illegal black market gun… so as much as I am opposed and scared by so many guns being around and easily available, stricter gun control will probably only decrease the number of spontaneous, unplanned, impulsive crimes involving guns. Which is a good start, mind you, but not really something to help put an end on tragedies like this one. 😦

        • mm172001
          Dec 16, 2012 @ 20:22:22

          True, true. In the state of California you are not allowed to possess, own, or attempt to buy a fire arm for 5 years to the day after an involuntary psychiatric hold (3 day) and life time for a 14 day. You can appeal it to a judge. I do believe if they is a will there is a way, though.

  3. nobodysreadingme
    Dec 15, 2012 @ 15:11:04

    I’m not certain you can separate the person from the act. It strays into the argument that guns don’t kill, people do. That’s so clearly fallacious it hardly merits any argument at all.
    I’ve had a fairly chequered relationship with my mental health; still do as it happens. I’ve never wanted to get rid of anyone, though I have often wished they’d just go away. When I get like that I just go asocial. Not antisocial. I just don’t go anywhere, speak to anyone, don’t answer my phone (actually I never do that anyway), don’t blog. But I often do some of my best writing when I’m a bit brittle. Oddly when I’m really in the pit, that’s when I write some of my funniest little tales. Somehow, if I can see other people laughing, I can begin to laugh at myself. I find that therapeutic.
    So now you know a bit more about me than you may have wanted. Lackaday

    • Lola
      Dec 15, 2012 @ 15:43:21

      But if you can’t seperate a person from the act, then how do you know you don’t unjustly reduce the person to his or her acts? Don’t you run danger to deny them parts of their identity or humanness or whatever that are seperate from the way they currently acted?

      For example I totally know about going asocial, because I have done it too, a lot. But if you couldn’t seperate people from their acts, would that mean we ARE asocial people? I don’t think I truly am unsocial. Just easily disappointed and discouraged and emotional, but hey, I can also be brave and I usually try hard to be kind and work on myself and show lots of other behavior that disagrees with BEING asocial. And I have read your post about Petra and what you did for her, and that doesn’t sound anything like someone who IS truly unsocial would do!

      I find it hard to pinpoint what exactly people ARE anyway. I am my physical body, but also my thoughts, my feelings, my behavior, my personal history, my society’s history, my wishes, my wants, my needs, my beliefs, my biological make-up and more . . . just picking one out and generalizing it to be the whole of me. . . I find that hard. How would a good person be able to make a mistake then? Like if it were a terrible mistake to the detriment of many and that person made it unknowingly, yet others judge the action as evil, would that mean that the person IS evil?

      Gee, sorry, for going all philosophical on you!! Life can really be complicated. And please know that I don’t mean to be disrespectful in any way. I hope you don’t take it that way? Thank you for the link, too! I have read your post and that really sounds like a way unpleasant situation to have been in! Yikes! I don’t know if I could have stood my own. I’m easily intimidated in person. But it sounds like you handled it gracefully with the icy polite restraint! 🙂

      • nobodysreadingme
        Dec 15, 2012 @ 15:54:09

        First things first. I know you mean no disrespect. Nor do I. so let’s not sweat about it, either of us.
        There’s a world of difference between making a mistake, and deliberately setting out to harm. Yes most of us have done that on occasion, but then you have to think about the question of degree. Keying up someone’s car is a realtively minor misdemeanour. Slashing their tyres is clearly more extreme, but it’s still no harm no foul. Loosening the lug nuts so the wheels fall off while the car’s moving? That’s evil, because of the degree of premeditation. You don’t do it on a whim; you need time, energy, tools, and a bad motive to do that.
        I reckon it’s premeditation that’s the key here. In France they have crimes passionels, acts of uncharacteristic nature carried out in the heat of the moment.. tooling up, donning a flak jacket can’t be regarded as spur of the moment

        • Lola
          Dec 15, 2012 @ 17:03:52

          Good that we’re good and neither means disrespect! 🙂

          I’m wondering if the example with the tires does not in itself already include more than just the immediate action before you come to a judgement of evil or no evil? Like intent? (I figure that’s the same or similar to what premeditation means?) Were there really no difference about a person and their action, why would intent matter? After all a bad act bad is a bad act, whether meant in a good way, in a harmful way, in an accidental way, etc. But it sure makes a difference if the reason for the bad act was ignorance or a mistake, or wishing someone harm, or acting in the heat of the moment. Yet if it was not necessary to seperate the person from the act, why would those things matter? After all the action would be the same and if the action were inseperable from the person, then even someone who meant no harm yet made a mistake grave would be a bad person.

  4. nobodysreadingme
    Dec 15, 2012 @ 15:17:19

    http://nobodysreadingme.wordpress.com/2012/11/29/apart-from-that-mrs-lincoln-how-did-you-enjoy-the-play-2/
    There’s some description here of just how much I dislike the hang ’em and flog ’em brigade. The firefight I mention was deeply unpleasant. I think I won on points. One of the participants Unfriended me. I thought that was a compliment;-)

  5. gypsy116
    Dec 15, 2012 @ 20:18:01

  6. gypsy116
    Dec 15, 2012 @ 20:26:55

    I completely agree with your feelings here. I have a really, really hard time trying to wrap my head around how anyone could get to a place where theyd hurt children. At the same time, I do honestly believe that everyone, EVERYONE, is doing the best that they can. That does not excuse behavior like this, but at the same time, just like you said, it doesnt make someone a monster or inhuman. We dont know all of the circumstances that came into play here, from the mans background all the way to his genetics, and like you said, ultimately this speaks to failings of society as a whole.

    • Lola
      Dec 15, 2012 @ 20:59:45

      Thank you for the comment, Gypsy! Your feelings really echo mine. I love children. I would never knowingly hurt children. I can not emotionally relate to hurting children, much less killing them. I do not in the faintest think it can or should be excused. But I share your belief that everyone is doing the best they can, even when it turns out disastrous, and that it doesn’t make people monsters. And that things like this happening are not solely in the responsibility of one person who is simply “unhuman” or “different from us anyway”, but also a result of what goes on within the society. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that such shootings by individuals who lash out at largely anonymous crowds become more and more widespread and horrific. Which is kind of scary, actually. 😦

      • gypsy116
        Dec 15, 2012 @ 21:04:52

        It really is scary, and I agree. I often think that the prevalence of mental illness in general is largely a failing of society as well.

        • Lola
          Dec 15, 2012 @ 21:12:35

          Actually that’s something I suspect, too. (re: mental illness and society) I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the number of people with mental illnesses is continually rising.

  7. mm172001
    Dec 16, 2012 @ 02:24:09

    Reblogged this on Mm172001's Blog and commented:
    See the following post for more information as to why I re-blogged this.

  8. AndThen
    Dec 16, 2012 @ 02:43:10

    Like yourself, I’m always stunned by the sort of simplistic ways that people want to look at situations like this.

    Granted, people are looking for ways to understand, but the human condition is way more complex than the lazy ways so many people want to look at it.

    • Lola
      Dec 16, 2012 @ 08:20:37

      Yes, I wish people made more of an effort to understand that humans are complex and that things aren’t black or white. Which is probably the most ironic thing for a girl with borderline to say, but while I struggle to remember that things aren’t black or white when my feelings tell me it’s safer to see them that way, at least I know it’s not that easy and that my feelings are flawed. Knowing and trying to incorporate that knowledge little by little would be a good start for everyone, probably.

  9. Trackback: Reblogging: The tragedy of denying basic human sameness – some deep thoughts in response to the elementary school shooting « Mm172001's Blog
  10. licensedmentalhealthcounselor
    Dec 16, 2012 @ 04:36:20

    Thank you so much for sharing such a personal glimpse into your life. I am a therapist and have worked with Schizophrenic patients for over five years. I know about the command voices and how torturous and scary they can be. Some of the best and insightful conversations I’ve had about the human mind and mental illness came from schizophrenic patients who were as in touch with themselves as you are. I don’t know you, but I am proud of you and the way you are dealing with your illness.

    • Lola
      Dec 16, 2012 @ 08:26:33

      Thank YOU for being someone who is willing to try and understand! That probably makes a big difference for the patients you see.

  11. licensedmentalhealthcounselor
    Dec 16, 2012 @ 04:37:01

  12. manyofus1980
    Dec 16, 2012 @ 12:45:42

    Reblogged this on Many of us's blog.

  13. manyofus1980
    Dec 16, 2012 @ 12:51:19

    That was amazingly well written! You are gifted with words! xo

  14. luckywolf13
    Dec 20, 2012 @ 02:55:34

    Thank you so much for writing this out. No one really understood how I felt about this, found my feelings offensive.. I’m glad I’m not the only one who sees it this way. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. They’re appreciated.

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