There have been many words written in response to the terrible events that happened October 1, 2015 at the Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. I found this quote particularly moving, “But here’s the thing: it was my campus. It was yours, too…This shooting could have happened to any of us. And today, it feels like it did”.
It may be the personal connection to the event (the woman I love taught in that very classroom until she retired some years ago) or simply the sheer banality of these kinds of events that used to be so dramatic and unusual. That shocks me. That I am becoming numb to mass shootings in my own community. That mass shootings are starting to not shock me is what is shocking me. I join so many voices that are now unifying in the imperative: this must stop!
But I find myself unsatisfied by what Samuel Snoek-Brown refers to as “only solutions I know of”—the only solutions being discussed nationally—which revolve around guns (either trying to prevent men like the killer at UCC from getting them or advocating that the victims should have been armed themselves). Taking away the killer’s guns would have prevented him from wielding a tool that is so effective at killing people. But would this really deal with the cause of the killings at UCC? Taking his guns away does not take away the rage the killer felt that drove him to wield those guns—nor does it face the pain that gave rise to that rage.
Many of us are taught to respond to pain as if it is the problem itself, and we frequently respond to that pain by repressing it either with pills or by pushing through it. But a wiser perspective toward our bodies sees pain as a message. That’s why our bodies send us pain messages—to let us know something is wrong. We respond to the horror at UCC with compassion for the pain felt by those killed or injured and for those who are grieving for them. But most ancient societies understood community to encompass all its members—even those we don’t like and would rather didn’t exist. Like the young man who—for whatever reason—felt his pain and rage boil up and out in such a devastating, horrific way. What if, rather than reject and cut ourselves off from such overwhelming pain, we began to question why our culture is creating so many such angry people? Why are so many of us so enraged?
Guns are not the cause of that rage. Most of us don’t even see a gun in our entire lives. I find it unlikely that guns were what enraged the man who killed so many at UCC that day. But I do find some of our ubiquitous cultural practices as sources of the rage nearly all of us feel to some degree. Alice Miller carefully researched and described the roots of the nearly universal anguish found in Eurocentric cultures—the authoritarian child-rearing practices we were all raised with. We are taught to over ride our hearts—and our evolutionarily derived instincts—to force babies to accept social isolation, to sleep alone (which most adults don’t do), and to sooth our emotional needs by being as convenient to us as we can make them. This is followed by parenting that presumes children to be anti-social and to feel pressured to “make” them behave by means we would recognize as humiliating and insufferable were we to treat adults that way. She traces the roots of hatred and what Freud inappropriately assumed was an “instinct” urging us to seek death. Such an instinct is nonsensical in an evolutionary context. What Freud accurately described is not an instinct inborn in humans—it is a natural response to intolerable bullying.
Our culture is based on bullying. Why do we call managers at work “boss” except that they are expected to “boss people around”? Tragically, our children bear the brunt of our bullying, and we were all first and foremost, bullied at home. That’s why the anti-bullying campaigns at schools are doomed to fail unless and until we are willing to look ourselves in the face and experience the pain we all had to shunt aside when we were most small and vulnerable. That pain can feel overwhelming and intolerable. That is why we condemn and ostracize the man who lashed out at UCC and tragically ended too many lives (one is too many), because that is the only way we had to deal with our urge to lash out when we were small and helpless and were treated with cruelty rather than the kindness our parents naturally wanted to shower us with. I am not blaming our parents—I’m blaming our entire culture that blamed and shamed them unless they went against their instincts to love and care, insisting they not “spoil” us and that we be raised with “scientific” (or “godly”) indifference and cruelty instead.
Some will react to what I’m writing with “why do you care about whatever real or imagined pain that evil man was feeling.” My only answer is, because it’s killing us. To stop the killing, we must stop its source.