The tragedies light up our headlines. A movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newport, Connecticut. A summer youth camp in Norway. The finish line of the Boston marathon.
The first question I hear each time a new event happens is, “Why?” Why did that man (men) do that? What did he hope to gain? What would drive him to act in such a way? What motivated him? We are dumbfounded by his hatred. We can’t make sense of it, and we aren’t satisfied until we know what caused him to reach out in violence. (Then we argue over gun control laws or terrorism, and move on.)
He is mad. He wants revenge. He wants to teach them a lesson. Most deeply, he wants justice.
It’s simple enough, why. It’s because he has been let down by his society, disappointed and frustrated. He does not have what he feels entitled to having, whether he was promised it as a child, or expected it as what life fairly “owes” him. He does not have the recognition, power, fame, or ease that he expected. He “knows” that his life is wrong. It is not how it should be, and he cannot make sense of it. He cannot see that he is not alone in this. He does not recognize or care that other people have disappointments just like his. Life shouldn’t be this hard, he thinks. For some reason, he cannot comprehend or accept reality, that he is not perfect and his life has problems. The life he expected or anticipated and his life are not the same. He suffers for this, deeply grieved and daily irritated, and he sees himself alone and shunted by society. This builds over time, aggravated by increasing isolation and by people minimizing his pain (intentionally or not) with careless words and by treating him like dirt (or like less than a god). He learns to blame them, and his irritation grows. He may say nothing about any of this. To whom would he confide, who could understand?
The result: make them suffer. Kill as many people as he can. Make them feel his pain. Hurt them where they are most vulnerable. This is different from a terrorist attack, which is most often politically motivated. He wants them to suffer for suffering’s sake. He wants them to die for death itself. He needs them to pay. And he has held this feeling in himself for so long that he is in no hurry now, when he has passed the tipping point from agony to a will to act. He can take the time he needs to plan. He can wait for the right moment. And when the time is right, or when another trigger comes, he acts. People ask, “why?” but it’s not too hard to understand. The need for what he sees as justice against an evil and disappointing society has grown and overwhelmed even his own desire to stay alive.
The solution: He needs people to come beside him and help him up, encourage him, love him, and make him feel like a useful, contributing member of society, or like he is human. He needs to learn to give and be appreciated. He needs something or someone that makes him feel like he belongs and he is one of them. This could be as simple as a hobby or club that gives him a glimmer of the life he thought he could never have. It could be love, or a pet, or anything that breaks through the shell he has built that makes him see the world as him, the unjustly forgotten and mistreated, versus them, who have collectively done this to him and shoulder the blame. It must include other people, though. He will not, indeed he cannot, change on his own.
Possible signs?: he is inflexible in some ways. When something new goes wrong, he does not care or he gets very mad. He lets go of all the dreams he once had or gets mad when other people are successful or praised or celebrated. He has trouble forming emotional bonds or understanding grief in other people.