First, let me say that certain members of society share partial responsibility for some spree killers. Adam Lanza was clearly, severely mentally ill years before he shot his mother in the head, stole her guns and opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Lanza was abandoned by his school, mental health professionals and his parents. Aurora killed James Holmes was also known threat; the University, the ATF and local police failed to intervene. As for Salon writer and “wilderness therapist” Brad Reedy’s assertion that “we” are also to blame, bullish*t. Here’s his thesis . . .
From my experience as a therapist for adolescents and young adults struggling with mental health issues, there are two basic principles that lie at the core of solving such problems. First, we need to understand the person and why they would act out in this way.
Second, we need to look in the mirror and acknowledge our individual and collective failures that contributed to their pain. We need to embrace dialectical ideas, understanding that seemingly opposite concepts can both be true: the offenders are responsible for their actions and we have some answerability for their pain and the conditions that make such tragedies so probable . . .
. . . is there anything we can do as a larger society to change the discussion and move toward a solution? I believe we need inspired education and leadership on these subjects, rather than the self-righteous rhetoric we often hear and imagine to be helpful. We can foster a sensibility to learn to see the wounds that lie underneath these acts of violence.
Whether it is from a post on social media, an activist, or a politician, we often hear hatred, anger and rage directed at the perpetrators of violence. While this reaction is natural and protects us from our feelings of powerlessness and grief, it is not the response that will engender change.
The same sensibility that causes a problem, in this case fear and rage, cannot be employed to solve that problem. All the great flag bearers for peace in human history have taught us this principle. Dr. King expressed it this way: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
As someone who’s wrestled with depression, I feel tremendous sympathy for people who suffer from mental illness. But there is mental illness and there is mental illness.
People who experience and succumb to homicidal rage — for that is what it is in one shape or another — are “the other.” They are not like you and me. Even if they are, which they’re not, they are to be intercepted and confined as early as possible (with due process of course).
It’s dangerously naive to think that mental health care — whether in a secure facility or wandering the great outdoors — can “cure” people who are severely mentally defective, that a judicious application of love can stifle their desire to kill others without anything remotely resembling just cause.
While we — as individuals or society — may fail to identify and intercept madmen, criminals and/or terrorists, not one of us encourages these killers. Equally, it’s silly to expect people to sympathize with wanton murderers after the fact — as opposed to feeling revulsion at their destruction of innocent life. Our fear of and anger against unlawful killers of any stripe helps keep us safe. That, and a gun.