When we have an eruption of violence by one person or a small group of people like Cho Seung-Hui or Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold I think I have the opposite reaction to that of most people. I am surprised that things like this do not happen more often.
I am sure there are some people who do not fit the following description, but in general, we humans have evolved into a species of nationalistic, cliquey, selfish, bullying and heartless creatures. Not only do we not reach out to those who show signs of emotional or psychological problems, we revel in ridiculing those who do not conform to what we believe to be normal behavior and mannerisms. We are intentionally hurtful to others so often that I doubt most people even think about it most of the time. If you don’t believe me, imagine gathering five hundred adults at random in a room and excluding all who did one of the following in the last year:
- Ridiculed/Excluded/Made jokes about or worse against someone from a different color or national origin or someone in the GLBT (Gay, Lesbian Bisexual or Transgendered) community or against someone with mental health issues or a physical handicap
- Ridiculed/Excluded/Made jokes about or worse against someone for any reason that obviously was hurtful to them
- Bullied someone at work or at home
- Slept with someone (or made a pass at someone) who at the time was someone else’s boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse, or when they themselves were someone else’s boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse
- Was abusive to someone in a customer service capacity who was attempting to assist them
- Reacted angrily to someone who accidentally bumped into them
- Was in any other way hurtful or nasty, directly or indirectly, to someone who really didn’t do anything to them.
How many would be left of the Five Hundred? Ten? Five? Hurtfulness is normative human behavior. The above examples are all easy to avoid by anyone attempting to be a good human being. Our humor doesn’t have to be about being nasty, hurtful or discriminatory. We don’t have to be bullies and our society does not have to tolerate bullying by children or adults. Anyone who is single has millions upon millions of other single and unattached people to choose to pursue. People who are attached can leave who they are with if they cannot stay faithful. We can opt not to be abusive to customer service people, and if someone bumps into us, don’t we have the option of saying excuse me with a smile and moving on? But we don’t opt to steer away from hurtful behaviors, we embrace them. We are hurtful as a matter of routine.
As far as reaching out to people on the fringes, people who are alienated and hurting? Forget it. We are all too busy filling our own mostly superficial needs, consuming, and trying to get one up on everyone else mostly by tearing someone else down. One person with Cho Seung-Hui, that is all it would have taken. One person who recognized him as someone who was alienated and hurting and made a concerted effort to reach out to him. One person who wasn’t going to be dissuaded by not getting much feedback at first and who wasn’t going to satisfy themselves with a simple referral to a mental health professional or prescription for Prozac, Paxil or other SSRI’s. Unfortunately for Cho Seung-Hui, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold and those they hurt and killed, those kind of people are hard to come by.
The results of the Virginia Tech massacre will be exactly the same as Columbine. There is going to be some discussion about gun laws. There will be some increased alertness regarding the alienated for a few months in schools and colleges around the country. Any hurting or alienated kids (or anyone else) who makes even seemingly crazy or innocuous comments will be treated as a potential Cho Seung-Hui and given a harsh sanction. After six months, we will be back to normal. Nothing really will happen regarding the real issue.We need to have a serious examination of who we want to be as human beings. Our cities and countries have grown so large that we consider any individual people we come in contact with as unimportant and disposable. Hurting them has no consequences. Being hurtful is OK. We don’t normally come face to face with the after-effects of our hurtful behavior and for the most part, we don’t care. That needs to stop. Here is the good part, if we keep even a slight awareness about not being a hurtful person, its easy to stop. If we look for opportunities to reach out and help people, a little effort will go a long way. The question is when are we human beings going to make the determination to make those changes? The next Cho Seung-Hui, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold’s await us if we don’t.