Over and over I hear the anguished cries of how society should have stopped Elliot Rodger and how this can never happen again. Apparently society seems to think that the answer is to stop or catch such people before they can act or buy a gun. So I am deeply disturbed that no one is considering that the only real way to stop people like Elliot is to prevent such hatred from forming in the first place.
Except for two people (including the family lawyer who described Elliot as the loneliest person and a single young man who actually tried to reach out to him), no one else has mentioned the pain Elliot described as long endured“torture,” nor that Elliot has said he didn't even know why he was rejected the way he was, nor that Elliot apparently lived a life of extreme emotional isolation and disconnect.
In today's electronic society, where people seemingly cannot survive for even one moment without being connected to each other, it seems to me that the consequences of not being able to connect on a personal level would have profound psychological consequences. Being and having connections with other people is so important to the human race, that in some societies being able to withdraw into a long period of solitude while being at peace with it is considered a sign of supreme self mastery and spiritual development. Tom Hanks gave us a taste of extreme isolation in Castaway. He became hysterical and distraught when he lost Wilson, a soccer ball with a face on it...the closest thing he had for a companion. Most people would be hard pressed to be alone for a week, let alone a lifetime. Yet, from what we know, it would seem that Elliot endured a lifetime of disconnect from, well, apparently everybody.
Welcome to the world of the excluded, the dismissed, the odd, the presumed unworthy. There is a wealth of people on this planet that could stand for the terms: Misunderstood, Prejudged and Excluded. Many ethnic/racial groups: the most recent being the Muslims, but let's not forget the blacks, the Mexicans, the Jews, the Japanese in WWII, etc. The many social classes: a current favorite, the homeless, followed by anyone on government assistance, the illegals, the gays, etc. The many disordered: the scarred, the physically dysfunctional, the developmentally delayed, the mentally ill, etc. As someone who fits some of these categories, frankly I'm tired of the demeaning comments, dismissed with “Oh, well, I don't mean you.” Yes! Yes, you do! When the American public so cavalierly comments on a group as a whole, then that comment applies to everyone in that category. As an aspie, I've never had anywhere near the level of isolation and exclusion that Elliot had, but I've experienced enough of it that I can understand why he would think so little of his contemporaries. This does not mean that I condone violence by Elliot or anyone. What it does mean is that I think I understand why it happened.
Being included and being viewed as a wanted and valuable member of society is so important to us as a people that when this does not happen one of three things occurs. You just accept as best you can that you are going to have a life of less: less love, less respect, less communication, less of the normal things that others, even the most obnoxious idiot or cruelest being will likely have, OR you turn your angst inward and live a life of despair. If you can't take it, you off yourself. Suddenly everyone mourns your lost life and a lot of people feel responsible because no one should have to live such a lonely disregarded life. OR lastly, you don't turn it inward. Instead you look at how people are treating you and each other: the judgment, the lies that society makes about people that they don't really know but presume to call facts, and the disregard for people based on total lack of knowledge, caring and the lack of insight that others are also feeling, hurting individuals. Some take that and at some point they become so deeply broken and twisted that no matter what else happens or who approaches, they are unlikely to recover. Instead their life plays out in an even larger tragedy. Only this time it is all about how society has been wronged and society is quick to deny any responsibility for what has happened. But if you have ever purposely ignored, snubbed, looked past or in anyway excluded someone then you have contributed to a deep hurt that many in society feel. And while you may think that what you did was insignificant or somehow justified, those affected will tell you that you have inflicted deep wounds, wounds that may fester and turn into something very ugly. When something like that grows it must be excised lest it kill the individual and any surgeon will tell you that surgery takes aggressive action...one way or another.
In the early seventies a third grade public school teacher devised a remarkable plan known as the Blue Eyed/ Brown Eyed Exercise. In this experiment designed to help her students relate to racism, Jane Elliot first told the students that those who were blue eyed were superior. They were put at the head of the class and given rewards. Soon they began the demeaning behaviors associated with “superiority.” In a single day the Superiors' work improved while the Inferiors' diminished. At the next class she informed them that she had made a mistake and that it was the brown eyed individuals who were superior and their roles were reversed. Afterwards she assigned the class the task of writing about what they had learned from the experience. As publicity of this experiment grew, the oft quoted line became, “How dare you conduct such a cruel experiment on white children.”
Yet what many in the past saw as cruel, still remains a mainstay for many individuals, and far too many in society think nothing of it.
Lately I've seen numerous examples where someone intervened to stop the pain. An adult or a child would come forward and explain to a classroom or group, either their or another child's pain in reaction to such exclusion and prejudice. Then magic happened. From then on there would be people who included that child. From then on that child would have friends. In some cases the formerly neglected child would have a friend for life or the whole school would rally round him or her. Then that child would blossom and live the fulfillment of its life that formerly would never have been possible. The sad thing is that when this happens it's so rare and remarkable that it makes the news.
So I can't help but wonder, what if that had happened to Elliot? What if early on people had included him and helped him to feel that he belonged? We shall never know what the outcome might have been. Whether or not such a thing might have helped Elliot, I do feel certain that it would have a profoundly positive effect on the lives of many individuals, and their contemporaries, especially if such things began to happen on a wider scale.
And while I mostly write about the homeless and poverty stricken, it is all the same thing. My work is really about people who are hurting, people who society demeans, and makes up stories about how and why so many are “worthless” or “scum” or somehow less human, somehow less valuable, somehow less worthy of even your consideration. The world is full of individuals who are hurting and often ignored. When people say “I never even looked at him,” or “I didn't do anything!” well, that's the problem. It's accepted practice in America to find someone different and define him in a lesser light so that we might feel superior as individuals or right in our actions. When we do this by passive means, it's known as passive-aggression, and it absolutely has the same psychological effect as bullying. Yet if bullying is unacceptable, then why is shunning still okay to do? Because in the grand scheme of things, in it's total impact on the individual, ergo that individual's response to it, it IS the same thing. Since passive-aggressive behavior IS a form of aggression we as a society need to recognize that inherent in aggression is the possibility that the recipient may eventually respond in kind.
Until we begin to look at and question our own thoughts, until we consider how our apathy, our lack of concern and our denial of our profound ability to judge and make up stories about others, along with the arrogance that comes with denial of culpability, things will not change. The result will be people who are crushed by the shadow side of American society, who will become broken or twisted and who will respond in dire and unpredictable ways. It's a sad thing to say, but true, that when an individual or group responds with aggression that they are acting more like us than we want to believe.
As a society we need to consider how our neglect affects others, especially now because times are changing and negative events are growing for both our planet and its inhabitants. More and more people are angry and unhappy and looking for someone to play the part of the scapegoat. It is an atmosphere ripe for similar developments...on BOTH sides of the aisle.
So please, begin to look inward and scrutinize your thoughts and beliefs about others. If it is true, how do you actually know so? Pay attention to things outside your own head. Simply smile at someone or say hello. Go to someone's aid. Be kind. Be aware. Be proactive. Do it for them, do it for you, do it for your kids, do it to help ensure a healthy future for everyone. Do it for whatever reason you like, but just do it or begin to try to do it. It is so important for all of us. And necessary. It is absolutely necessary.
Todays Lesson: "A kind gesture can reach a wound that only compassion can heal." Steve Maraboli
copyright Linda Matthews 6/2/2014
copyright Linda Matthews 6/2/2014