Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Sound of Silence: For Aurora

I have been trying to process the tragedy in Colorado all day.

This is the largest mass shooting in American history.  The suspect had four weapons and 6,000 rounds of ammunition.  Seventy people were shot, 12 are dead. Maybe you are tired of reading about it.  Tired of hearing about it.  Maybe, like me, you wish it would just go away.

But the questions nag at me.  What causes someone to do commit such a senseless act of violence?  We mourn.  We rage.  Even if we don't have a direct connection to the victims, we think about our own loved ones, imagine how easy it would have been to have lost one of them.  And because we are human, we want answers.

The frustrating thing is that for all of our knowledge about neuroscience, for all of the awareness raised around issues of mental health since Columbine and Virginia Tech and the 26 other mass shootings since 1999, we still can't predict human behavior perfectly.  We can't forecast violence.  In cases like this, we search for consistency, for patterns, for signposts we might have missed--and sometimes, they exist--but in other cases, there is no sense to be made.

Some people are saying that Holmes was a recluse.  Does isolation make someone abnormal?  In the age of social media, of overconnectedness, does being a loner signal mental illness?  That feels like a frightening conclusion to me.

Some people will say that parents know their children, and will blame them for not acting on their instincts -- Holmes' mother reportedly said to the police "you have the right person" -- but how does a parent deal with the difficult and complicated truth of mental illness of a child, especially when the child in question is an adult, and no longer living at home?

Some people will blame the medical school.  Why didn't anyone find out more about why he was withdrawing from his PhD program?  Didn't anyone notice anything odd about him during those months of classes?  Having worked in higher education, I can say with some authority that this, too, is tricky; the school has no power to act unless the student seeks help or overtly threatens harm to himself or others.  And there are lots of odd people in the world.  Most of them are just that: odd.  Not dangerous.

Some people will blame a culture that promotes gun violence.  I walked into the kitchen a few hours ago and saw the water pistol my son got at a party last weekend, despite the fact that we don't generally allow guns in our house, and felt my stomach turn.  But I can't pretend for my son that guns don't exist.  And we try to teach him to use even this one responsibly, hoping that he will never feel the need to carry one that could hurt another living being.

As I commented on Mel's post about this tragedy today: there will be lots of words.  Because that's how many human beings process the world -- through language.  We name things so that we feel like we can contain them, like we can control them, even when we know better.  We will place blame unjustly.  We will try to create logic.

But despite the words, there will be silence in our hearts.

My thoughts are with all of the victims, their families, their friends, and all of us whose worlds have been shifted, again.  Shanti.  Shanti.  Shanti.
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  1. Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu.

  2. I must live under a rock. This is the first I've heard of this. So very very sad. I know the U.S. is not alone with this type of violence but between this post and your other about education - I'm feeling thankful to be raising my children overseas. You bring up good points about how complicated diagnosing mental illness is and how difficult it is to recognize the potential of violence and react to it before the violence actually happens. There is a part of me that wishes I hadn't read this - sometimes ignorance is much more comfortable. My heart is aching with this knowledge and with the knowledge that it is probably not going to be the last time we get this type of news.

  3. I honestly have a hard time processing violence. I just...don't understand it. That sounds so trite. But it's the only way I can think to explain it. What would make a person do such a thing? How lost and sick must he have been?

  4. Thank you for this.

    I join you and Esperanza and others...

    Shanti. Shanti. Shanti....
    Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu.

  5. Yes, thank you. So very well said.

    So many questions, so few answers.

    It's hard to try to make sense out of things that just don't add up.

    Sending peace, love, light and prayers to all those touched and broken by this tragedy.

  6. Great post.

    After reading Dave Cullen's book Columbine, which did a tremendous amount to put you into the minds of the killers there, I concluded that in the case of psychopaths (one of the killers was a psychopath), it's really hard/impossible to understand their thinking, and there is very little we can do medically or via therapy for them. It really is a situation of "they were born that way" and controls on weapons, ammunition and body armor are probably the best we can do. Although, not fail proof.

  7. So beautifully written, thank you for this. Peace & love


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