YOUR REGULAR COLUMBINE RESEARCH LINKS ARE BELOW THIS SPECIAL UPDATE ON THE CONNECTICUT SHOOTING.
Please watch the music video below called “Change”
Special Update Re: Newtown Connecticut Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting – Adam Lanza
“Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well- warmed, and well-fed.” – Herman Melville
“Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the causes of school violence by the non-violent.” – Cal Emerson
Due to the recent school shooting in CT, I wanted to share some insight on the subject – although Adam Lanza cannot be compared to the Columbine shooters, there are always factors that cross over between incidents. I didn’t know Adam Lanza, but I did know many other school shooters who have since passed and some who are in jail serving life sentences. I was also put through the justice system at 15 years old for planning an attack against my junior high long before Columbine. So this is a subject I have a lot of experience with. My intention in sharing this with you is to help non-violent people understand the violence. It isn’t easy, but if you really want to know what’s going on, it doesn’t hurt to attempt to listen to a new, unfamiliar perspective.
A friend of mine asked me: the following question:
“I’ve noticed that psychologists on TV have been bringing up one cause. I do not know how they came to this conclusion. It may or may not have been through interviewing mass shooters or potential mass shooters. They are saying that the shooter has repeatedly been rejected by peer groups. The shooter has a feeling inside himself that he is an extraordinary person and wants people to recognize him. All this rejection eventually provokes this violence. And the reason he does it as a mass shooting is to gain notoriety. Do these psychologists have it right, Cal?”
And here is my reply:
I see some accuracy in their analysis, but the problem is they’re all just talking conceptually. (Putting the fact that all language is purely conceptual on pause for just a moment, as words are all we have to work with here…)
The problem is :
1. They make blanket statements about motivation/desire and apply to every young person who commits a murder at a school
2. They disregard what the perpetrators say and choose their heavy psychoanalytical psychological diagnosis language to reiterate what the perpetrators say, except they aren’t saying the same thing. It’s as if they are saying, “we know what you (the killer) THINK motivated you, but we see more deeply into your situation and we know better because we have Ph.D.’s and therefore, this is what REALLY motivated you.”
Even Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold had different motivations, but they performed the same actions. Eric was full of rage and contempt, thinking he was better than everyone because he saw through the idiocy of society. He knew that the routine of “go to school, get a job, work until you retire and then die” was nonsense, but he saw no way out. He saw everyone else in the system as idiots for not seeing that they were cattle in line to be slaughtered. He felt that this system and everyone in it (teachers, parents, police) were preventing him from living a free life. He felt entitled to steal whatever he wanted whenever he wanted (they broke into a van in Jan ’98 and stole electronics equipment and Eric wrote in his journal that it was a free country and if the person was stupid enough to leave their equipment in the van then they deserved to have it stolen). Eric was always afraid to make a mistake, he wouldn’t even swing playing baseball in little league because he wasn’t very good and he didn’t want to strike out.
Dylan on the other hand, was depressed because he never felt like he fit in, he never felt like he had a close connection with anyone who really understood him. He lamented about this in his journals and it was always the focus of his thoughts. Unrequited love, curiosity of the world, the universe, the stars, human connection, love and science… Eric felt left out, too, but Eric’s main lament was about how everyone was too stupid to be alive and everyone deserved to die.
They were both very angry, but Dylan internalized his anger more. People hardly saw Dylan snap, except once someone saw him push a girl, but Eric was not shy about his anger and he didn’t hide his destructive nature. He even brought pipe bombs to work. His boss told him to go home. His dad found a pipe bomb in his room and detonated it in a field to get rid of it. Both of them pranked people’s houses, but Eric bragged and wanted the credit for the pranks while Dylan never said a word. They both shot kids with a BB gun from the roof one halloween, and Eric bragged about it.
They wanted to be known for what they did, but that wasn’t the motivation. They didn’t just say, “OK we want to be infamously known, so let’s shoot up the school.” The infamy was a side bonus. They already wanted to kill people, but the desire to be known for it was based on their observation that they felt all the other school shooters before them (specifically Andrew Golden and Mitchell Johnson of Jonesboro) were killing their classmates for the wrong reasons, and they felt that their reasons for wanting to kill were superior. They were planning for the right reasons, while all the other kids who got caught were doing it all wrong and for the wrong reasons.
They wanted revenge on the cops for arresting them in Jan ’98 because that ruined them on so many personal levels. Dylan was absolutely embarrassed, hardcore, he was ashamed of his arrest to a degree that just made him snap. His life was over with that arrest. He felt he could never get a job or be trusted by his family again. The arrest had a deep saddening effect on his life.
Eric, on the other hand, felt and expressed only contempt for the arrest. The arrest is why they rigged their cars with bombs (that never detonated when planned) so that they could have them explode right when the cops were in the parking lot, and kill them for revenge.
They did feel isolated and they were definitely “bullied” – people don’t want to believe they were but we have mutual friends who have described many incidents to me that they witnessed first hand. Tampons dipped in ketchup being thrown at Dylan, for one. My friend found him in the bathroom and was consoling him from that incident. But they did have friends. But everyone has at least some friends, having friends doesn’t mean you don’t get picked on and shoved around. Dan Lab walked right up to Eric and punched him in the face, flat out. Things happen.
The rejection people experience doesn’t necessarily need to be “real” in the sense that in other people’s view it’s bad enough to warrant murder. That’s where the confusion comes in. People from outside of our experience can never know how we are affected by what happens to us. Others want to say, “oh they didn’t have it that bad, I had it worse” but when you’re bullied and outcast by people, it can have a serious impact no matter what the incident is. What I may be unaffected by, might haunt someone else for years. I had a friend who flipped out when I called him a prick, jokingly. That was a trigger for him, unbeknownst to me.
If you take someone like Kip Kinkel, you get a kid who killed his mother and father at home, and then went to school and killed and wounded other people with the intention of killing himself but he was tackled by a student before he could pull the trigger on himself. He was diagnosed schizophrenic, he had been on and off medication his whole life, and he was violent from a young age. His parents did get him his guns and taught him how to shoot, and they walked on eggshells with him. He did hear voices, and his mental noise was over the top. He has since calmed down quite a bit, since 1997 of course, being alone for so long, but he reminds me of Adam, this guy from CT, although I didn’t know Adam. But Kip didn’t want fame. The Jonesboro guys Mitchell and Andrew didn’t want fame. Michael Carneal didn’t want fame. He was paranoid and possibly schizophrenic, he thought people were spying on him in the shower so he’d cover himself with 5 bath towels when he took a shower and other weird things. He’d get teased at school for wearing a cape and weird stuff like that, but he was also brought up in a religious family and he was not inclined toward religion. He shot people at school in a prayer circle, and right after he collapsed in tears and was hysterical. Clearly there was more going on than just rage with him.
Andy Williams was someone who just wanted revenge, permanent revenge. He was bullied really severely all of his life and he didn’t want fame, but he wanted to end his suffering and since no one would listen to him or do anything to help him and his situation, he felt like the solution was to kill everyone because that would end it permanently. When you try to get people to help and they don’t do anything and nothing works, and you can’t see a way out, killing them sounds like the best solution because you feel dead inside anyway.
But then in the 70′s Brenda Spencer setup a rifle across from an elementary school and shot kids and staff and when they asked her why she did it she said, “I don’t like Mondays.”
Then in the 60′s Charles Whitman climbed to the tower at the Texas University and shot randomly at people, and he said he thought he had a tumor in his brain that was causing him to feel like killing people. Sure enough when he died there was a large tumor in his brain.
Then take Bastian Bosse from Germany, someone who left high school and then went back to shoot it up. He was obsessed with Columbine, I had many conversations with him about it and he was very vocal about his plans. He didn’t want fame but he wanted to be heard. He identified with Eric so much in what he saw in humanity and the stupidity of the system of school-work-retire that he just gave up on his life, and his anger took over and again we had another shooting. Just for the record, since I don’t know who reads this, many of us who knew him turned him in to the FBI but nothing was done about it.
Then Kimveer Gill from Canada… he felt like violence should not be the answer but he had so much pain and suffering built up inside of him… he had thought about a shooting at his high school but never went through with it, and there is something about those plans that never gets laid to rest with many people… he went to someone else’s college, a school he did not even attend, and shot many people killing one girl. I still have the transcripts of my chats with Kimveer before the shooting, and he was very very intent on trying to help people see that violence is not the answer. I think he was trying to convince himself more than anything. He couldn’t let go of his idea.
Some kids get expelled and come back the next day, unplanned, shoot 1 teacher and then themselves. The kids who don’t plan are in the majority and don’t care about fame. Just revenge. They don’t even think about talking to someone because they learned early on that no one listens.
So, really, they are looking in the right direction… but they’re trying to find a way to lump everyone into one category so they can create a solution for the world, because that’s what parents and teachers want… a solution, they want to feel safe, they want to know that someone knows what’s going on and they are working on it.
What works is getting these kids, listening to them, validating their experiences, really truly being someone who listens. I can’t tell you how many kids I’ve connected with who told me I’m the only person who has ever listened to them, gotten them and just made them feel like they were OK for feeling the way they feel… I’ve had so many tell me they were planning a shooting but changed their mind because of the way I was being with them. That they finally felt seen and heard and they trusted me with their lives. I could have sent all of them to jail for what they told me and they knew it but they trusted me and I took the time to connect with them. And they’re alive today… see, the kids who never opened up to me like Kimveer, Asa Coon and so many others who have since killed themselves and/or other people… I never knew. I never had the opportunity to even connect with them on a deeper and intimate level. So it works both ways. But imagine if these kids had someone in their life they could trust and talk to and open up to who would truly listen… and validate their experiences instead of always trying to tell them what they feel is wrong, or bad or they have to be this way or do this or they shouldn’t feel this way… you know how everyone wants to “fix” your life… that shit doesn’t work. That just makes them more angry. All it takes is just one person in their life to get them… and once they get a taste of what that’s like… they can never go back. They’ll always have that taste of intimacy in their experience, and given enough time, the desire to kill will fade…
The problem psychologists/psychiatrists have with helping in this area, is that kids know they are being paid to listen to their problems, and that creates an extra barrier that prevents trust. And many kids don’t think the way they feel is a problem to start with. When a kid is sent to any kind of therapist, they know the purpose of therapy is to “help” them, to “cure” them, to “change” them or “make them better.” So therapists of any kind, by the nature of their job, will always have a more difficult time reaching these kids who are really set on murder as a resolution. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but the nature of their job creates a wall of distrust (getting paid to listen to the problems of kids who don’t think they have a problem).
When a kid says he wants to kill people, s/he knows that the adults around him/her will think that it’s unhealthy, not normal and they will do everything to get that kid to change. “Why do you feel that way?” They often ask in a condescending tone. Even if it’s not in any specific tone, the kid will already be on the defense and interpret the meaning as condescending. That immediately shuts down trust and nothing the kid says after that point will ever be truthful or complete. Parents don’t stand a chance at getting inside the world of these kids.
I planned a massacre and my mom never knew, even when I got arrested for having it discovered, and she convinced my probation officer to get the courts to let me off the hook, she had no idea about the extent of my pain and suffering.
People don’t want to think that perhaps understanding where the kid is coming from when he says he wants to kill people and telling him, and really meaning it, “I can completely understand why you feel that way. It makes sense that you’d want to kill people, given that you feel like no one loves you and no one is listening to you… I get you.” Take the blame out and validate the feelings and you can work with someone.
Psychologists can’t agree with a kid about him being justified in wanting to murder his classmates because it’s against the law. And it sounds like it would perpetuate the feelings — but it doesn’t.
I’ve spoken to countless kids who have told me things they could never tell their parents or therapists. I’ve had to intervene many times by having heartbreaking conversations with parents, teachers and therapists who thought they knew their kid/student well, and thought they were doing better… only to be completely shattered at the fact that a school massacre was being planned and their supposed “improvement” was all a show. It’s not their fault. It’s their position and the way they are perceived by the student.
This kind of dialogue works with any issue. Validate the feelings, don’t blame, just really listen and get them and repeat back to them that you get them and it makes sense that they’d feel the way they do… and the issue dissolves. But it has to be genuine. You can’t just repeat their words back to them. You have to get in their world and really listen.
If you want to know more about this, just research the “Imago Dialogue” – I had no idea it was a dialogue that someone had named/labeled, until last year, but if you look that up you can learn more about it than I can describe here.
The thing is, there are so many people who have stopped school shootings by creating a high level of trust and a safe space for these kids… and it isn’t something that can be systematized. But that’s what parents and teachers want. A system, like “zero tolerance” but the solution starts at home, maybe not with the parents but with anyone in a kid’s life. It’s so simple. But we’re trained all of our lives to constantly make people wrong. And as long as we make kids wrong for wanting to kill their classmates, we’ll never stop the violence.
It is the sincerity and authenticity is what makes it work as opposed to having a negative effect. I think that if someone were to just say those words, it could be different. But the sincerity of the person makes a huge difference. We can all be that person right now, we don’t have to wait for anyone to figure anything out. That’s the best part. We don’t even need to know the details of what happens in these incidents to prevent future ones… we just have to be present, here and now with the people in our lives… and create authentic connection…