Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Tragic Instance of Humanity

Yet another shooting.

God.  Damn.  It.

In case you have not yet heard, a student at the University of California at Santa Barbara by the name of Elliot Rodger murdered six fellow students before taking his own life.  It's a very tragic, horrific, sad instance of human failings leading to the unnecessary deaths of people who were just starting to find their own ways in life.

However, I want to stress one word from that previous sentence: human.

I have read so many headlines, news stories, blog posts and comments calling Rodger a killer, a misogynist, a bitch (including one of my own), a coward, and any number of other titles.  All of these are either obviously true or could have a compelling case to be accurately attributed to him.  However, I am troubled by the fact that the label of human rarely appears in any discussion pertaining to this story; as if by not saying it, we can pretend that he is not one of us, that he is a different species from us.  This is a mistake: by pushing him away like that we leave ourselves open to ignoring the fact that the stressors of everyday life are enough to push any one of us over the edge and we miss the signs and symptoms of dangerous thoughts manifesting themselves in our loved ones or ourselves.

Now, I understand that Rodger was indeed all of those labels that I mentioned earlier.  I also understand that the action of pushing him away is a perfectly viable defense mechanism so that we can carry on with what all of us need to do in our own lives (after all, if we couldn't push unfortunate events and stories out of our thoughts, we might not be able to perform basic survival tasks).  That being said, do we not have struggles of our own?  Our own personal insecurities that we have to face
down every day when we look at ourselves in the mirror?  We have to face the very same struggle that Rodger faced.

In my case, this particular example is especially poignant.  Why?  Because, as a teenager (and, to a lesser extent, still do), I had some of those same insecurities that Elliot mentioned in his video: when I was in high school, I can't tell you how many hours I spent brooding over my own lack of romantic and sexual success, because I'm honestly not sure that numbers that high exist.  I spent more time in my own head than Lou Gehrig spent time playing baseball.  All of that focus on my own insecurities and what I deemed to be failings led to be an angry, bitter person who deemed those around to be somehow not as deserving of happiness.  I envied the lives of others: I often thought in my more resentful moments "Why not me?"  "Why won't any of the girls give a second glance at me?"  "Am I that much of a freak?"

The problem really only got worse as the years went on; my friends would often tell me of the girls that they had had sex with and it became especially irksome when one of my best friends started dating a girl that I had had a crush on for over a year (who, perhaps not coincidentally, was-and still is-a very close friend of mine).  My jealousy of my peers coupled with the self-imposed pressure to succeed where so many of my circle had previously succeeded really fed into the internal angst that I was feeling and created a version of myself that was consistently dour, angry and prone to aggressive outbursts.  Even more than any of that, I was desperate for attention and clingy.  Essentially, I would be clingy and insecure, which led people to be uncomfortable around me, which led to them not wanting to pay me much attention, which fed my insecurities further and made me angrier.  Rinse, lather, repeat.  What started out as a typical awkward teenager struggling with change and learning how to properly wash hair was spiraling into something that was starting to turn dark.

I, of course, didn't recognize this while it was happening.  Throughout that time, I just thought that that was me.  That was who I am, and I shouldn't have to change for anybody.  The only thing that brought me out of that cycle was a very personal tragedy that caused me to look at myself, face my own inner demons and misconceptions that I had carried with me my entire adolescence up until that point, and change my outlook accordingly.  Looking back, I'm not entirely sure that I would have made those changes without that terrible moment (as sad as that makes me).

During this reexamination of my life, I determined that I was no longer going to allow how others interacted with me to define myself.  Chief amongst these interactions were those that I had with women: I was no longer going to feel like I was unworthy because I hadn't been kissed.

What that took, though, was me creating my own personal definition of what a man was.  You see, I thought that one of the main checkpoints on the path to manhood was losing one's virginity.  We hear/see it all the time on TV and in movies: "She'll make you a man yet."  "You're a man now, son."  "It's hard to explain to you boys who haven't had sex yet." (don't get me wrong: I'm not blaming pop culture on my flawed definition of manhood; media is a reflection of the culture, not the creator of it).  Ultimately, what that meant was that my manhood (and thus, my self-esteem and my confidence in my own viability in life), was in the hands of other people and not myself.  That is a disconcerting thought; one that would make any teenage boy afraid.  And, in the great words of Yoda: "Fear leads to anger.  Anger leads to hate.  Hate leads to suffering."

Now, not knowing him personally, I can't speak as to what Elliot Rodger was contemplating, and I am definitely not a professional psychiatrist.  Speaking as someone who can honestly say that they went through similar emotions during a similar time in life, though, it seems to me that he let his own insecurities define who he was as a person.  He lost his struggle with his inner demons and he let them become him, which drove him to commit his final, heinous act.

And that is a human tragedy that is as old as the human race itself.

That is why it is so important to remember that Elliot Rodger was, first and foremost, a human being. Just as anyone of us could be the victim of an attack, any one of us (if we lose the struggle against our insecurities and misconceptions) could be the perpetrator as well.

I urge any one and everyone-whether you read this blog post or not-to face their insecurities head-on and find a way to defeat them.  It isn't easy and it isn't comfortable, but it is necessary, and doing the necessary things despite the hardships are a huge part of what turns a child into an adult.  A girl into a woman.

Or a boy into a man.


At May 27, 2014 at 9:18 PM , Blogger Veronica Prior said...

Anyone can be depressed, but I do not believe anyone can kill. Not coldly like that. That ability is reserved for the few, and, by doing so, it seems to me that they lose their right to be considered human. We have all been tempted, but most of us will draw back from the moment of killing.

At May 27, 2014 at 9:35 PM , Blogger Brendan Toungate said...

I think that humans are capable of a great many dark things of pushed hard enough. Rodger was a human being who fell to his own human failings. Whether we want to admit it or not, he was a human being. I think that dehumanizing him would cause us as humans to miss a chance to improve our nature as a whole, as that would give us an excuse to ignore any lessons that might be learned instead of taking a difficult step forward.


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