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It is so very easy for us to condemn acts of evil, to pretend that all is well “with us,” that the evil that has been committed has emerged from the belly of a beast, that the other fellow, the one who committed the act, is someone very different than we are, someone beyond our capacity to understand, never realizing that we do such a thing in order to justify our angered need to condemn our foe. The much more difficult task is to take the time to understand our enemy, to try to understand why such a person may have chosen to do what he did, for in doing such a thing we begin to understand ourselves, and in better understanding ourselves we are led to the realization that we are in no way different from that of our enemy, that rather than choosing to hate him, we have little choice but to forgive the one we have been taught to hate.
As a psychologist, I am bothered by those (especially the “so-called professionals” on television) who continue to point out the hate and violence involved in the massacre at Virginia Tech while ever so conveniently choosing to avoid the rather obvious fact that Cho Seung-Hui may well have been forced into “an absolute bubble of isolation, loneliness, and despair.” For those who might take offense, it is important to recognize the fact that an attempt to explain one’s behavior is very different from that of condoning one’s behavior. Although I certainly despise what Cho Seung-Hui did on that Monday morning in Blacksburg, Virginia, I will attempt to explain why I believe he did such a thing.
As a human being, the most important psychological need is that of being loved (the need to be valued as a respected member of society, a cherished member of one’s group). But when the fulfillment of such a need, one that is absolutely essential for happiness and well-being, is denied, it is only natural for one to become frustrated, angry, and perhaps even enraged. I don’t know about you, but on occasion I have felt very alone and without the support of one who cares, and believe me it did not feel good. At such times in my life it was as if I had been deprived of the very thing I most needed in order to survive as a human being. But even though I choose not to kill anyone, I yet see myself as no different from that of Cho Seung-Hui. Perhaps a bit more sane than Cho, but very much the same in that sane or not, it hurts to the core of one’s being when one is unable to connect with others with whom one lives. Nothing hurts more than for one to be looked upon, and therefore treated as a weirdo, to be the butt of jokes, a laughingstock, one who is ridiculed, mocked, humiliated, picked on and bullied, and in time discarded as someone so objectionable that their feelings no longer count. It is no wonder that nearly every mass murderer has turned out to be a loner, an individual severely frustrated in his attempt to reach out for love, a person left with seemingly little choice but to strike out at what he feels to be the source (the essential cause) of his problems…… human beings who do not care, people who, in that of his own mind, need to die for the terrible thing they have done to him, people who thoughtlessly denied his right to receive that which he most needed in order to survive, the right to be held, hugged, his right to be included in the group…… his right to be loved as a human being!
I understand the inevitable outpouring of anger regarding a nearly unimaginable act of evil perpetrated by Cho Seung-Hui, but just once, I would like to see someone try to understand, try to put themselves into the shoes of the killer, face the fact that, other than having been born an autistic child-turned paranoid schizophrenic adult, we are all in the exact same boat, that if we, for whatever reason, had been regarded as an Ishmael, an outcast having been banished from society, anyone of us may well have turned out to be very much like that of Cho Seung-Hui.
It would be wonderful if we could move beyond the insularity of disregarding that which we do not want to understand, an unwillingness to grant our assailants, mass murderers and/or enemies of the State, the right to have their own reasons for doing what they have done. No one can deny that the 9/11 event in New York City or that of the horrendous massacre in the foothills of Virginia was evil. Neither however, can we prematurely excuse ourselves by pretending that we had no part in the affair, the fact that 9/11 could have been prevented if we, as a nation, had conducted ourselves in a more humane manner, just as the carnage in Blacksburg, Virginia could have been prevented if someone would have taken the time to treat an autistic child with the kind attention that he undoubtedly needed.
One last thought……. if there is a moral to this story, perhaps it is that each of us needs to understand the unimaginably intertwined nature of humanity, the fact that there are many out there who have no one to turn to, no one who cares if they live or die, multitudes of those who are impoverished living within the midst of utterly ostentatious displays of opulence, greed, and indifference, absolutely bizarre distinctions between those who are worthy and those who are not, and all of such within the context of a rather simple realization that the difference between a day of national sorrow and one lost within an imperceptible breeze of lost memories depends upon the gallantry to reach out to those beyond the pale of our own understanding, a resolute willingness to move beyond, to transcend, personal and cultural boundaries that divide us from one another, international borders that lead to hate and misunderstanding, a determined resolve to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, the boldness of spirit to go where no man has gone before…….. the uncompromising courage to love our enemy.
G. Doug Soderstrom, Ph.D.