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.

Just sad

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