Virginia Tech Redux

As the Columbine community comes together to help folks who’ve been through recent violence, we’ve been posting on FB and sharing our experiences with PTSD.  I wrote this at the time of the Virginia Tech shootings and posted it on my now defunct blog at Blog-city.  I am reposting for those who might need it now.

Virginia Tech 4/17/07

First, I would like to thank everyone who has left messages here or sent emails to me privately.  Your kindness is greatly appreciated.

Obviously, right now, my heart and soul are with the students, faculty, and community at Virginia Tech.  A friend actually had a neighbor say to her, “Well, look at it this way; at least we’re not the worst anymore.”  Talk about cold comfort.  I wish to God we’d kept that status.  I wish I knew how to keep anyone from ever going through it again.

I also always feel like I want to go to places where this happens.  I’ve said before and will say again, the one thing I really wished when it was us was that I could talk to someone else who’d been through it, just so that I could see that someone else had made it.  Each time it happens, I ask myself, now that I am here in the journey, what would I tell someone who has just been thrust upon the path?

Here is what I would say now, with the eighth anniversary three days away.  If anyone reading this knows anyone at Virginia Tech, please feel free to pass this forward:

This is about what happens to you as an individual who has gone through this experience.  The person you were on April 15th is gone.  It’s not entirely unlike having your house and everything in it burn to the ground.  At first, you sit on the curb, watching the flames engulf everything, and you are in shock.  You can’t tear your eyes away, though the smoke burns and the devastation is—well—devastating.  That’s the first year.  All you know is that everything you ever were and everything you ever believed is gone, and you can’t get off the curb and figure out what to do.  People hand you coffee, and you drink it.  They hand you a sandwich, and you eat it.  They put a blanket on you, and sometimes you are aware that you are warmer, but more often you are too numb to notice.

When the embers have cooled, you get up and sift through the ashes, picking up anything remotely salvageable.  In your life, you try to reconnect with the people you love, go deep for the bits and pieces of yourself that are intact, or maybe only singed at the edges.  That’s the second year.

The third year, it’s time to rebuild yourself.  You take what others will give (and many will be generous); you will also have to work for your own materials.  Friends and family will help you frame the new house, but most of the work has to come from you.  Every now and then, you’ll stop so that you can admire the work of those who went through it with you on their own structures.  You’ll lend a hand where you can.  Finally, the house is finished.

Year four, you start to fill it with new furniture, dishes, personal touches.  You will find places of honor for the things you salvaged from the ashes.  It is a house.  It shelters you from the cold, but it doesn’t feel like home.  You will realize that you are walking around in the body of a stranger—another person, whole and functional, you just don’t know her very well.

More years go by, and you begin to realize something.  You’re no longer eating from the “new dishes.”  They have developed a few cracks and chips from countless dinners with friends, Passovers or Christmases, Thanksgivings.  You don’t sit on the “new furniture.”  You flop down on the couch, get up again to search for the remote under the cushions, and encounter a handful of change and some stale peanuts.  You can walk every stair and avoid every piece of furniture in the dark.  This is not the “new house.”  This is home.  The “new you” is not a stranger, she is you.

You never forget the old you, just as you never forget the old house.  You’ll always miss the things you lost, but you will also find new things to cherish.  I imagine that a person who has lost his house in a fire still has strong reactions to flame, just as I can have some rather nasty repercussions from threatening situations, but for the most part, you settle into yourself.  It’s a very long row to hoe, and there are times when it’s so tempting to give up.  When you’re looking at smoking embers, you can’t begin to imagine that blessed handful of change and peanuts under the cushions of a couch you can’t conceive of, but the future is there.  I swear it.

Right now, though, I know the people at Virginia Tech are sitting on the curb.  In a few weeks, the country is going to start talking about “healing” and “rebuilding.”  The people involved are going to try, God love them.  They’re going to drink the coffee and eat the sandwiches and tell themselves that they’ll get up and start sifting through the ashes tomorrow.  They’ll even make those first few abortive attempts, but it’s so overwhelming and so damned depressing.  I would say to the folks at Virginia Tech, it’s okay.  The ashes aren’t going anywhere.  Don’t let anyone else tell you that you have to start building that new house today.  You’ll know when it’s time, and there will be people there to help you.  In the meantime, if I could, I’d be the one there to put the blanket over your shoulders, and I would understand if you were too numb to notice.

About admin

Paula is an author of historical fiction as well as a wife, mom, and teacher.
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34 Responses to Virginia Tech Redux

  1. Kim L. Short says:

    “I wish I knew how to keep anyone from ever going through it again.”

    If you’re really serious about your “wish” and not just being rhetorical, send an e-mail.

  2. Kim L. Short says:

    Preventing the creation of personalities like Cho Seung-Hui, Eric Harris, Timothy McVeigh, and America’s latest media sensation, James Holmes is a lot like preventing alcohol related traffic fatalities. Create an environment where anyone who even considers drinking and driving knows he won’t have a friend in the world and you’ll reduce it as much as it can be reduced. Americans could just as easily minimize the most important precursor to mass murder, but they just don’t want to.

    http://chickensoupfortheterroristsoul.blogspot.com/2012/07/in-nature-bullying-is-usual-method-of.html

    I don’t think it’s all that complicated. What do you think?

    • admin says:

      I don’t think you can lump all mass murderers into a single category. Some are psychotic, some psychopathic, others have other issues. Society does not cause and therefore cannot prevent psychosis or psychopathy. We can treat the former, and that requires us to do far more about mental health than we currently do, but we have nothing, as yet for the latter. We can do much about bullying and should, but that is not a panacea.

  3. Kim L. Short says:

    You are correct in claiming that you cannot “lump all mass murderers into a single category.” But many mass murderers, spree killers, serial killers, serial bombers, serial arsonists, and a long list of less serious criminals share a common adolescent experience just as all alcohol related collisions share a common contributory element. Adolescent cruelty is no more harmless than drunk driving. The fact that bullying, like drunk driving fails to precipitate a tragedy the vast majority of the time is why most of the public was and still is so apathetic about it. Is the public sending the message that more massacres are needed?

    “We can do much about bullying and should” is an empty statement. Most adults, particularly adults in authority avoid the problem like the plague. How much effort has Frank DeAngelis devoted to making it safe, legally and otherwise for teachers and school administrators to openly criticize the competence and criminality of parents who want their children to be feared? Has he been demanding laws that make it easier to expel bullies? Probably not. If I were the principal of a school that experienced a massacre I’d be hounding the legislature regularly and letting the media know what I was up to. What’s DeAngelis been doing?

    • admin says:

      Sharing a common adolescent experience is not automatically cause/effect. Psychopathy is, by all current evidence, a neurological condition present from birth. Kids tend not to like psychopaths. They’re mean. They’re not all big, so they don’t all have the capacity to become classic bullies who physically intimidate (and they are therefore not labeled bullies), but they find their own ways to be cruel. Is it at all possible that the psychopathy caused the social problems at school, rather than the other way around? Also, I’ve read some of your writings. You don’t seem to acknowledge any possibility that any of these killers are psychotic. That’s a chemical imbalance. Have you ever been in any kind of relationship with a psychotic person? I assure you, very little that others do influences that condition. If someone is wrapped up in a paranoid delusion, reality (even in the form of kindness) seldom infringes. Most severe forms of mental illness hit in adolescence. What we need is more education about it and a greater acceptance of it in all of society so these kids can get help. Right now, I think most kids who pick on kids with mental health issues do so out of ignorance.

      It is actually getting much easier to remove kids who are classic bullies, by the way. The problem is, you ascribe a lot of extreme circumstances to bullying, when most likely, it’s a completely separate issue. Schools are dealing with bullying to a far greater degree than ever before, but this will most likely not prevent all, or even most, future mass murders. Most kids who are bullied in the classic sense will not become murderers. That’s not why we should stop bullying. We should stop it because many kids who are bullied will bear those undeserved scars for life, and that is unacceptable.

      Ultimately, what do you think Frank should do? Push for zero tolerance? We tried that in Colorado; it was a disaster. It would be swell if every case were black and white (the easy cases for expulsion now), but there’s a whole lot of gray out there. You can ignore it (and as far as I can tell, you do), but those of us in the trenches have to deal with it.

  4. Kim L. Short says:

    The solution to bullying is not a snowstorm of new and exciting legislation. The solution is to undermine the bully’s sense of legitimacy. The bully’s sense of legitimacy is founded upon the behavior of all those enablers I described in my bully enablers post. I tend to focus upon athletes because as a demographic group, bullies who are also athletes are very easy for the public to punish. Just don’t show up on game day and everyone will get the message. As far as Frank is concerned, he says very little about bullying and like just about everyone else he avoids criticizing the role of bad parents as if uttering the words would kill him. Is every adult in America really stupid enough to believe that when bullies become parents they make a special effort to raise offspring who are civilized? Parental incompetence is a serious problem and no one will even admit it.

    My teenaged son attends a weekly class obviously intended to satisfy some sort of regulatory reqirement by “educating” students about bullying. I told him to ask the teacher why no one ever broaches the subject of bad parents. At first he thought it was a bad idea, not because he didn’t believe it, but because it might make him a target. After a few weeks he came to the conclusion that he was popular enough to get away with it. He said that the teacher “stiffened up like she sat on an ice pick.” After a few moments of dead silence in the room, she simply moved on as if nothing was asked of her. I compare this to a teenager in a traditional alcoholic family broaching the subject of Dad’s drinking problem during dinner. The teenager hasn’t said anything that everyone isn’t already painfully aware of, but they’ll all attack him for speaking the truth.

    Start talking about bad parents. You might even save lives.

    • admin says:

      I don’t know what to say about the teacher who wouldn’t talk about bad parents. In my ACE class, we talk about parenting, and we specifically talk about the fact that parents who are high-conflict raise children who are high-conflict, that intimidation by parents is often imitated by children. My experience with classic bullies is that their fathers defend them to the nth degree, usually attempting intimidation, sometimes succeeding, depending upon the strength of the adult they’re dealing with. I’m difficult to intimidate, and I’ve had more than one run to Frank to tell him how “inflexible” I am (because I don’t buy the dad’s excuse for his kid’s bullying), and Frank has backed me every time.

      I’m confused, on the one hand you say Frank should be “demanding laws that make it easier to expel bullies,” but the beginning of this comment takes an entirely different tack. I’ve seen discipline against athletes work, and I’ve seen it backfire. If the athlete is popular enough, the kids rally around him against the administration. It doesn’t matter–the discipline stands–but the message kids take away is muddied. You have to discipline athletes as you discipline anyone else, and the chips will fall where they may. It’s just not as cut-and-dry as many would like to think.

      • Kim L. Short says:

        My impression about teachers is that they harbor a legitimate fear of losing their jobs if they openly question the competence of a bully’s parents, particularly if the bully is a popular athlete or the son of someone who matters. I also suspect that Frank’s willingness to back you against a bad parent became more publicly acceptable only after the massacre. I never hear any public figure criticize parents.

        The beginning of my comment of August 28 at 6:25 A.M. explains that the public needs to react to bullying by ostracising the bully. As long as “if the athlete is popular enough, the kids rally around him against the administration” is an accurate measure of depraved indifference toward the victim, our culture is going to continue producing killers who find it easy to hate the public enough to commit mass murder. Bullying cannot be treated like burglary or auto theft. The bully must know from experience that he won’t have a friend in the world instead of feeling confident that the crowd will always side with him against the little twerp who everyone knows is always asking for it.

        • admin says:

          And then the bully claims to be the victim: “I became a bully because I had no friends,” just like “I became a mass murderer because I had no friends.”

          This is why I believe that most conflict that escalates out of control is better dealt with by teaching conflict resolution. I do teach this in my ACE class, and at first the kids insist it won’t work. Then they try it, and are surprised at how often it does. More often than you might expect, they actually bring in kids they are fighting with for mediation. It’s nothing I do formally; they just trust me.

          As part of conflict resolution, I address the fact that there are crazy people in the world, and there are jackasses in the world, and I acknowledge that conflict resolution doesn’t always work. Then we talk about power–what to do when power should be equally divided but isn’t, physically or socially, and when it’s unequal because of structures, like at work or school. We talk a lot about when to go up the chain, when to walk away, what options are available. We also acknowledge that sometimes there’s nothing you can do and it sucks (like when your parents aren’t technically abusive, but they make your life hell). We also talk about the importance of having each others’ backs, as with bullies.

          Frank backed me with the nastiest parent the year before the shootings. Schools do not publicly criticize parents, that is true. There are libel and slander issues, since “bad parenting” is often in the eye of the beholder, and there are very strict confidentiality laws in education. (Remember, if you publicly call out a parent, you reveal the abuse of the child to the public, as well.) Also, escalating a conflict in public seldom leads to satisfactory resolution. This is why most of the time, when I deliver serious reprimands, I do not do it in the classroom. I call the kid in the hall. Everyone knows the kid is getting his ass chewed, but I don’t escalate by creating a public power struggle. The exception may or may not be bullying. If I think publicly calling out the bully in class will cause the bully to lash out at the victim outside of school, or feel so angry he will risk harsher discipline in order to retaliate, I do it privately, but in no uncertain terms. I once told a young man that if he said one word to another young man in class, if he so much as looked at the other kid in a way that made him feel intimidated, the bully would never darken the door of my classroom again. If he had any contact outside of school with the other boy, I personally would help the other kid file a police report and I would testify in court. (This was the case the year before the shootings when I had a dad come completely unhinged and Frank backed me up.) If I know that embarrassing the bully will control the behavior, I do reprimand him in public. That works much better with a socially dominant kid who just needs to be reminded that he’s being an ass and it is uncool. Do it to a psychopath, and you’re likely to get a victim brutally beaten. The psychopath will view it as well worth the expulsion.

          See how one size just doesn’t fit all? It’s complicated, and people will screw up, even when they’re trying to get it right.

          • Kim L. Short says:

            When the bully claims to be the victim he has no credibility. Every member of the student body knows what the bully is doing and who’s who. Their behavior is dictated solely by who they like, who they don’t care about, and their own sense of self preservation.

            Bullying serves one important purpose. It establishes dominance. Who’s who. Once the bully establishes who he is and who is below him, “conflict resolution” presents no threat to the bully’s position. He can pretend to be sorry and play naive adults, but all the other students know who to show deference to and who to ignore.

            Remember that people are no different than dogs or chimpanzees. They’re not born civilized. They have to be taught to show concern for others. Failure to do that is what produces “crazy people.”

          • admin says:

            I know a number of kids who felt Eric was a bully, but when we suggest that possibility as a reason he did not have friends, we are accused of blaming the victim.

    • Ron Aigner says:

      Try talking about pedophiles and for sure you will save some lives!
      Go go our website then contact me via e-mail
      http://www.columbinefamilyrequest.org

  5. Kim L. Short says:

    I was called away before I could finish.

    Mass murderers who suffer from a genuine mental illness that is not the result of experience are like motorists who crash into things for reasons other than alcohol. They have no common, easily defined contributory cause. I’m interested in those who’s adolescent experiences undermine their ability to develop and maintain mutually beneficial relationships with others, particularly their ability to arbitrarily assign a high value to the lives and safety of people with whom they have no personal relationship with. When your life’s experience is defined or simply dominated by memories of everyone treating the bully well and looking at you like they stepped in something, it becomes a lot easier to rationalize the commission of a crime. And this is not just an academic exercise. My adolescent experiences did not prevent me from maintaining relationships with others. I’ve been married to the same person for 24 years and we still like each other. Our teenaged children are socially skilled. And I’ve held the same job for 16 years. Pretty much everyone who has regular contact with me would agree that I’m easy to get along with. I have no difficulty maintaining relationships with individuals. But…I have little concern for people in large groups. None of the media worthy crimes like Columbine, 9/11, Oklahoma City, etc. made me feel uneasy because my life experience has led me to believe that the larger the group, the more antisocial its behavior and the easier it is to fear and hate. My concern is that there are many people who feel as I do. Some of them may study microbiology instead of electronics and that could be a problem. I really don’t want to listen to another expert exclaim some variation of ,”Who could possibly have predicted this?!” after someone makes a lot of people very sick. After 9/11 a “defense expert” employed at the Pentagon was one of the guests on a news program I clicked into late one night. She said, “Who would have expected anyone to use an airplane as a manned missile?!” Apparently this woman never heard of WWII. I wish they’d stop listening to experts.

    Does that clarify what I’m doing?

  6. admin says:

    I was responding to your comment that “preventing the creation of personalities like Cho Seung-Hui, Eric Harris, Timothy McVeigh, and America’s latest media sensation, James Holmes is a lot like preventing alcohol related traffic fatalities.” Cho was obviously deeply mentally ill. Eric Harris was most likely a true psychopath. It looks like Holmes may also have had a full-blown mental illness. That runs directly counter to this comment.

    So I’m back to my original question. To whom should I send an email to prevent all future mass murders?

    • Kim L. Short says:

      I was suggesting you send an e-mail to me. I didn’t expect you to engage me in a public dialog because almost no one ever does. And the few who do engage me usually disappear after one or two comments.

      Most forms of mental illness are caused by the people with whom you are forced to interact with during your first two decades of life. The brain can be attacked by a disease just like any other organ, but nothing about the behavior of mass murderers, serial killers, and terrorists suggests to me that they were not fully aware of what they were doing. I have no difficulty understanding why they behaved as they did.

  7. admin says:

    Ah, that was unclear.

    I think you are uninformed about mental illness. It can undoubtedly be the result of environment. We know that solitary confinement can induce psychosis in previously lucid people. While there is debate about the nature of disassociative personality disorder, whether it even truly exists or not, we do know it is most likely to show up in people who were severely abused as small children. Mental illness can also have nothing to do with environment. Schizophrenia has clearly been linked to genetic causes, possibly triggered by maternal fever in utero. People with no history of mental illness or behavioral issues in childhood can suddenly manifest symptoms in adolescence and young adulthood.

    Rather than question whether mass murderers are fully aware of what they were doing, try asking how grounded in reality their perceptions of their world were leading up to the event. A psychopath is fully aware of what he is doing, he just doesn’t care how it affects anyone but him. Again, that is a neurological deficiency. The parts of the brain that process empathy, fear, love, etc. do not function as highly as they do in non-psychopaths, whereas the parts that process anger and frustration are hyperactive. Symptoms show up very early in life, and can be measured quite young in MRIs.

    I think we need to have these discussions publicly. Too many people make assumptions without any understanding of what science has to say about these issues. I’m sure there have been many murderers, maybe even mass murderers, who became what they were because of environment. But we cannot make assumptions without all the information.

  8. Kim L. Short says:

    “A psychopath is fully aware of what he is doing, he just doesn’t care how it affects anyone but him.” Sounds like the bullies and enablers I described in my blog.

    What sort of public forum do you have in mind?

    • admin says:

      The big difference is that what you attribute to society, neurologists attribute to abnormal brain function.

      As to the latter, I was explaining why I’m fine having this conversation here as opposed to email.

      • Kim L. Short says:

        Neurologists are physicians, medical scientists. Their salaries, grant money, and professional reputations are dependent upon finding evidence that creates a cause and effect relationship between brain function and behavior. Their work can be conducted in a relatively controlled environment, controlled enough to satisfy the requirements of the institutions that provide the funding. If they can successfully blame criminal behavior on a medical problem, a whole universe of pharmaceutical products and shiny, expensive gadgets like MRI machines can be developed and sold in order to treat the problem. There exists a colossal profit incentive to blame criminality on biology.

        Conducting research that blames criminality on social forces and the detrimental effects of the criminal’s personal experiences is, in stark contrast a researcher’s nightmare. It basically involves physically tracing the individual’s life from early childhood to early adulthood and conducting interviews with acquaintances who may or may not provide accurate information. Those who’d love to provide accurate information may not be willing to talk to you because a local family that matters will be offended and their children will punish the children of anyone who talks openly. This kind of research lacks controls, tends to deviate from the scientific method, and because there’s no profit incentive for anyone who doesn’t write novels or movie scripts, grant money is pretty thin gruel.

        Personal experience and observation has led me to believe that bullying is the result of parents who either couldn’t be bothered doing their job, are unable to do their job, or more often, genuinely want their children to be feared by other people’s children. Bad people reproduce all the time and there’s nothing mysterious about their behavior as parents. The public’s depraved indifference toward the victims allows bullying to flourish. Neither of these groups are likely to change their behavior as a result of anti-bullying legislation or eduation programs. It is my morbid prediction that public apathy will disappear rather suddenly when one or more adult victims of bullying, or someone who may not have been bullied much but was forced to live in constant fear of it imposes an unacceptable cost on the public. I’m putting my money on biotechnology because it’s such an obvious weapon, but there’s no way for me or anyone else to be certain.

        • Aymen says:

          I agree with you! My oldest dahetugr has been bullied and it’s so hard as a parent to watch your child going through this. In our case, letting the teachers know what was going on helped, but a lot of the time that doesn’t work. You’re right, bullying is often a learned behavior and it’s difficult to make them stop because the bullies try to use the “I’m just kidding” line of defense.

  9. Kim L. Short says:

    I’m posting this again because I got an error message the last time.

    Neurologists are physicians, medical scientists. Their salaries, grant money, and professional reputations are dependent upon finding evidence that creates a cause and effect relationship between brain function and behavior. Their work can be conducted in a relatively controlled environment, controlled enough to satisfy the requirements of the institutions that provide the funding. If they can successfully blame criminal behavior on a medical problem, a whole universe of pharmaceutical products and shiny, expensive gadgets like MRI machines can be developed and sold in order to treat the problem. There exists a colossal profit incentive to blame criminality on biology.

    Conducting research that blames criminality on social forces and the detrimental effects of the criminal’s personal experiences is, in stark contrast a researcher’s nightmare. It basically involves physically tracing the individual’s life from early childhood to early adulthood and conducting interviews with acquaintances who may or may not provide accurate information. Those who’d love to provide accurate information may not be willing to talk to you because a local family that matters will be offended and their children will punish the children of anyone who talks openly. This kind of research lacks controls, tends to deviate from the scientific method, and because there’s no profit incentive for anyone who doesn’t write novels or movie scripts, grant money is pretty thin gruel.

    Personal experience and observation has led me to believe that bullying is the result of parents who either couldn’t be bothered doing their job, are unable to do their job, or more often, genuinely want their children to be feared by other people’s children. The public’s depraved indifference toward the victims allows bullying to flourish. Neither of these groups are likely to change their behavior as a result of anti-bullying legislation or education programs. It is my morbid prediction that public apathy will disappear rather suddenly when one or more adult victims of bullying, or someone who may not have been bullied much but was forced to live in constant fear of it imposes an unacceptable cost on the public. I’m putting my money on biotechnology because it’s such an obvious weapon, but there’s no way for me or anyone else to be certain.

    • admin says:

      Well, we’ll have to agree to disagree here. I’m a big fan of science, and since the current conclusion regarding psychopathy is that it’s untreatable, I don’t see big profit in it. I prefer large controlled studies to individual anecdotes. No doubt there are many bullies who come from just the environments you describe. I would never deny that. I just don’t think you can ascribe every act of violence to it.

      • HagleyRoad says:

        Admin,
        I agree with you that, in some cases, behaviour can/should be explained through pre-existing medical conditions. Sure.

        But, you seem to gloss over too easily regarding the environmental causes. Correct it if I’m wrong, but you just brush it aside. And there are massive grounds for it. The way bullying is perpetrated and allowed to do so, subtly or not, intoo many schools and colleges.

        I broadly agree with Kim L.Short. He/She may a bit blunt in their posts, but they speak the unpalatable truth. That is, bullying in schools and colleges is not tackled properly. What you in the US called “jocks” are made to feel popular from day 1 – it’s the way society misfunctions. Patterns of appalling parenthood are glossed over.

        The bullied are way too often blamed too easily or scapegoated as “freaks”, “misfits”, “runts”, or worse. Or blamed for not being able to stick up for themselves. The media cling on to easy scapegoats like Marilyn Manson, video games, or gun legislation (btw I’m an advocate of European-style control), but miss the massive psychological atrocities that are allowed to happen in most educational institutions. And every year or so, another inexplicable massacre takes place.

        • admin says:

          It depends upon what aspect of the conversation you’re referring to. I do not and have never denied that there are bullies, that they make people’s lives miserable at school, that abuse can inflict profound psychological damage, etc.

          What I am saying, and will continue to maintain, is that not every mass murderer became a mass murderer because of bullying; that, in fact, in order to lead up to mass murder, there are many other factors. More often than not, there are chemical and/or neurological elements.

          Ultimately, if it’s super important to someone to believe that bullying alone is the cause, I’m not going to change his/her mind. Everybody wants an easy fix, the “one thing” we can do that will keep us all safe. Whether it’s “get rid of guns” or “arm all the teachers” or “lock up all the bullies,” if we do only one of those things we won’t do Jack.

          If we enact reasonable gun control, really work on bullying from both sides (I know, I know–the other simple thing we want is for everyone to be a clear-cut bully or victim, black hats and white hats, good guys and bad guys and we want the solution to just be beat-down the bad guys and it’ll all be fine–another approach that won’t do Jack), and implement really effective mental health treatment, we will make significant headway.

          And there will still be some mass-murderers out there.

          That is the unpalatable truth.

  10. Kim L. Short says:

    I don’t “ascribe every act of violence” to criminally incompetent parenting any more than I would blame every traffic collision on alcohol. I merely state that criminal behavior that is the result of parental role modeling is usually as obvious as a traffic death involving alcohol.

    • admin says:

      Sorry–unclear pronoun use. I wasn’t suggesting that you attribute every act of violence to parenting; I was saying you attribute every act of violence to bullying. I’m not asserting that every, or even most, bullies are true psychopaths or mentally ill. I am positing that most mass murderers are.

      I agree with you that bullies are often the result of bad parenting.

  11. Kim L. Short says:

    There’s a chain of cause and effect involved:

    Bullying is what animals do to establish rank within a pack. Bullying is instinctive behavior and not the result of a brain disfunction. Human animals like to think of themselves as different from dogs or chimpanzees. Don’t believe it. People are just another species of animal and just as cruel.

    Civilized behavior is unnatural and must be taught from early adolescence, usually by consistent role modeling and punishment of uncivilized behavior.

    Bad parents avoid behaving or teaching their children to behave in a civilized manner because they look upon it as a sign of weakness. Bad parents consider bullying to be perfectly normal behavior and being nice to others when they don’t have to be is beneath them. You’ve no doubt run across a few of these parents at Columbine.

    Bullies impose cruelty upon other people’s children in an environment where bullies are neither ostracized by peers nor punished by adult authorities in any consistent manner.

    The victims learn to fear the bully, but they also learn to hate all those who enable the bully in any capacity. This is how victims of cruelty reach the point where they are able to rationalize that people are evil and deserve to be shot full of holes.

    If you really want to finish the job, imply that bullying is at least partially the fault of the victim because of some irrelevent detail like the way he dresses or his badly timed jokes. Then punish the victim for complaining about being bullied. This teaches him to hide even the most vitriolic rage behind the bland smile of a cowed, cooperative lackey.

    Have a good weekend.

  12. Chris H says:

    Wow. What an interesting conversation!

    A couple of assumptions that should probably be tackled: there is this assumption of a dichotomy between environment and chemistry (neurological, etc.)

    You both appear to be assuming that something is environmental or neurological/chemical, but not both, and that neurological/chemical implies genetic cause or congenital condition.

    This is fundamentally incorrect: you can induce changes in brain chemistry through environment (if you’d like cites, I have many, but a good thought experiment for showing this to be true is “How can it be that clinical depression rates are so high now and were not a generation ago if depression has a chemical cause?”

    Second, you seem to assume that responses are commensurate and parallel, i.e. bullying drives extreme aggression. However, helplessness can also drive extreme aggression or even psychosis in many individuals.

    • admin says:

      Actually, I don’t make that assumption at all. The example I used to support your assertion about environment was the induction of psychosis in non-psychotic individuals placed in solitary confinement. My premise is that there are too many causes to insist that one solution (the elimination of bullying) will stop all or even most acts of violence such as the ones discussed here, but that Kim oversimplifies by insisting bullying is the chief cause in virtually all cases. Environment can also exacerbate chemical/neurological conditions. A hostile school environment would be one of those possible factors. It’s also possible that the previously existing condition exacerbates the isolation the person feels at school because children (and sadly too often adults) don’t understand.

      • Chris H says:

        Thank you. I didn’t get to all the comments, found your comment now.

        A book I would strongly recommend is a book by Seligman called “Learned Helplessness: On Depression, Development and Death.”

        Not only has it been cited over 7,000 times in the psychological literature, the person who recommended it to me – Theodore Kaczynski – provides a profoundly interesting case of someone who is (1) sick, (2) self-aware, (3) a lone wolf terrorist. Assuming he’s somewhat an expert on minds like his own, I think that I’d take it as a strong rec.

        In it Seligman describes how behavioralist forces can induce aggression in both humans and animals.

        For example, if early, simple problems are repeatedly given to pigeons, rats or college students that they can solve easily, if they are subjected to a problem with no solution they can become remarkably aggressive.

        This might be an explanation for the formation of many types of bullies – and terrorists, and spree killers, etc. – without the need for direct, previous abuse (bullying) as an explanation.

        • Ana says:

          bullying is really bad here. this year i had to connroft a teacher who was encouraging her students to bully my six-year-old son as revenge for him being the class clown. it gets worse as they get to high school. this town has a culture of bullying, and it makes me sick. i’ve had people say to homeschool or send them to private school, but that doesn’t solve anything. some other kid will just be bullied in there place. it’s so wrong. and it isn’t always easy to stick up for yourself. but it’s just got to stop. kids are cruel- sure. but as adults it’s our jobs to reprimand the cruelty- not encourage it.i seriously thought that society had become more open-minded than this.

    • Aryana says:

      thanks for that link. What a heartbreaking story and ellen’s msagsee made me tear up. You can see she really understands what those kids went through. I wish I could say bullying is a problem between children and teens but I’ve seen it happen oh too often in the work place as well. I don’t know if it’s insecurity, a superiority complex or a hunger for power and domination over others that is responsable. All I know is it has to stop. Great post!

  13. Kim L. Short says:

    Bullying is how individuals of any species, including humans determine rank and status within a group. Bullying is not the result of mental illness. It’s the result of parents who intentionally avoid teaching their children to treat others in a civilized manner.

    Victims of bullying grow up in a society that pays enormous lip service to concepts like equality and civility while lavishly praising and rewarding the most violent males the American Family can produce. This creates a relationship between the victim of bullying and the rest of society (though not necessarily individuals within society) that is founded upon hate, fear, and distrust. I doubt that Timothy McVeigh or James Holmes could look a small child in the eyes and murder him or her, but both of them were able to kill children who were mixed into a large, homogeneous group.

    When the public is willing to stop worshipping violent, young males and blaming their cruelty on the victims, a significant but unknowable number of men like McVeigh and Holmes will avoid developing into mass murderers. This will not eliminate “all” violent crime, but it will eliminate a lot of it.

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