My initial reaction to the shooting in Aurora, Colorado was probably typical: first shock, then sadness. And then the questions start.
How could something like this happen? Could it have been prevented? Were there warning signs someone should have seen? Perhaps most important, why do these seemingly unimaginable acts of violence keep happening? Why do they so often seem to involve young people? In Aurora, the individual was a young man; other cases, such as Columbine, have involved teenagers.
It is always tempting in these cases to try to look back, with 20-20 hindsight, and speculate on what could have been done to prevent them. But no one will ever know whether a particular incident was preventable or not.
In an opinion piece published in The New York Times on July 23rd, 2012, columnist David Brooks said, “The crucial point is that the dynamics are internal, not external. These killers are primarily the product of psychological derangement, not sociological ones.”
I couldn’t agree with him more. FBI profilers look into the psychological background of a killer, describing him/her as a loner who has faced some kind of rejection or who suffers from depression, bipolar disorder, a drug addiction–the permutations to one’s psychological make-up are infinite. Even the most highly trained, well-informed therapists cannot identify with certainty that “Johnny” is a mass murderer and “Danny” isn’t, and if we expect them to predict who will kill and who will not kill, we wind up tilting at windmills.
So how do we make incidents like these less likely in the future? We must create a climate where kids know how to celebrate success and respond to failure. Failure and rejection are a part of life, and we need to teach our kids how to develop thicker skin. We can’t stop these incidents from happening, but we can reduce them by creating an environment where kids feel comfortable handling rejection while at the same time enjoying success.
The anti-bullying initiatives taking place across the country are a good start, but we need more social and mental health programs that teach kids how to deal with the stresses of growing up, no matter which class or race they fall into. Nothing is 100%, but it only takes one person with an automatic weapon to destroy countless lives. Fewer kids on the wrong track can prevent a lot of devastation.
We desperately need a national conversation on this subject. Let’s start one here.