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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.

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The following comments are for "Behind the Mask of Evil"
by dougsoderstrom

Dear Doug.

I have to say this was a well thought out and impassioned piece of writing .I couldn't agree with you more .

If I may be candid and bring in a strand that may, on the surface ,not seem quite relevant .However ,on second thoughts, might well be more germane than one would otherwise think.The perception seems to be that much of the sorry pass the world finds itself in has been because of western jackboots stomping over the rest of a world that they've always considered they're own backyard. The Americans are not solely to blame -they've merely taken up the baton that was passed to them by the European colonial powers. However they've clearly taken it to new heights . As a result anti-Americanism is rife - even among Europeans who have far more 'genetically' in common with Americans than any other race or culture . The following ,written of all people ,by a Brit , underscores the ingrained attitudes and feelings that you -(or perhaps we ) - have to contend with:

"I am student living with 3, 18-19yr old American volunteers. They're intelligent and perfectly normal, yet living with them has only increased my negative opinion towards the US. Mainly because they are totally ignorant about other cultures and countries outside America, and are totally oblivious to the controversy that surrounds their country. They're loud, over the top, unintentionally belittle everybody else and are very immature compared to the European volunteers I live with.

Andy Sykes, Huddersfield"

It would be trite to say this is a complex issue with deep atavistic roots . Even attempting to solve it would sadly be a non starter as one is up against the immutabilities and intractabilities of human nature . If the gods couldn't do it what chance do we poor mortals stand .

( Posted by: RJKT [Member] On: April 25, 2007 )

There may be hope yet
If the sentiments expressed in the following extract represent even the frailest strand of truth , there might well be hope that a smidgen good may yet prevail:

" Twenty five years later, El Salvador has become Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Colombia, indeed, the whole world. Not long ago, some Pentagon general announced that the United States was now using the same strategy it employed in El Salvador on Iraq. In El Salvador, we helped to kill some 75,000 people, including Archbishop Romero, the four churchwomen and the six Jesuits. We trained the death squads at the School of the Americas. We supported the torture and rape of thousands. We rewarded the generals, the junta, and the handful of millionaires who stole the nation’s resources. Instead of repenting of the evils it did in El Salvador--and so many other places--our government is now intent on turning the rest of the world into the killing fields of El Salvador. It could care less about the innocent lives lost in El Salvador, Iraq or anywhere else.

But I take heart in the life and example of Jean Donovan and the other churchwomen. They renounced First World greed and nationalism, entered the world of the marginalized and destitute, shared their powerlessness and pain, stood up in their defense and gave their lives in loving solidarity for them.

In these dark times, Jean and the church women inspire us to stand up in solidarity with the victims of our government and its wars, regardless of the consequences to ourselves, and to give our lives so that some day, the killing will stop. "

Would i be way off the mark to surmise that people are ,by and large , innately great, good and noble - and even passionate , caring and creative. While the establishments that lord it over them are loathsome, vile, depraved and even diabolical.

( Posted by: RJKT [Member] On: April 26, 2007 )

I agree with you 100%!

We are no doubt a mere extension taken to the extreme of the European colonial powers. A very good point indeed. And I liked your quote concerning the three 18/19 year old boys..... so true!

And I did not know Jean Donovan's name, however she must have been one hell of a woman (human being!).

The best to you, and it is very nice to hear from you again.


( Posted by: dougsoderstrom [Member] On: April 26, 2007 )

How to prevent
Doug --

Well written piece. And I agree with much of it. Funny thing is, at least here in the US, most of the news I've seen/read, both in the mainstream media and in the blogs, has *not* been of the hateful kind you contrast your ideas to. It has been exactly (though not usually as delicately) as you've put it; an attempt not to demonize Cho, but to understand him. There is a general understanding that this was a sick, sad kid with probably many, many overlapping problems, all of which combined in some 1-in-100-million way to trigger his rampage.

Not sure how the anti-American angle works in here... There are plenty of examples of mass murderers who weren't American. See for a listing of both state and individual sponsored versions... All very sad.

What troubles me most about the response to these killings (and many other "sensational" acts of violence) is the apparent need to find secondary causes of the perpetrator's actions -- family, violent video-games, loneliness, bad grades, whatever -- when in almost all cases, this kind of behavior is clearly related to extreme mental illness, and we just don't treat (in the US and most other countries) mental illness the same way we do other diseases. We either play "hands off," because it's embarrassing and impolite to talk about (which is what may have been the case for Cho), or we overreact and, in some cases, provide drug therapies without ample enough review or ongoing clinical care... thus making bad situations worse. I've seen first-hand what can happen to a manic-depressive who decides to go off his meds cold-turkey, partly because his HMO will only cover one half-hour visit with a junior-level social-worker per month. We wouldn't ask someone with a life-long kidney, heart or bone affliction to limit their treatment in this way. Why do we treat the brain with such reckless disregard, when it is the only organ in the body capable of injuring others when it is malfunctioning?

No matter what else Cho had wrong in his life, millions of others manage to deal with successfully; loneliness, being picked on, family strife, etc. I'm not saying this to be cruel, because our sympathy and friendship and love should be with all our brothers and sisters, especially those who are suffering in any way. But what (imho) *caused* him to commit his terrible crimes and ruin so many lives, was extreme mental illness that should have been caught (at several points, by several systems/people) and treated. You wouldn't let someone walk down the street with blood streaming from an open wound without calling 911. You wouldn't let a classmate who complained day-after-day of increasing chest pains go for weeks without taking him/her to the infirmary. You wouldn't let a student who complained of blurred vision, nausea and dizziness drive a car. Until we have, as a culture, a better understanding of mental illness, these things will probably keep happening. Those in positions of authority have more of a responsibility than any to be aware of the symptoms and signs... but it behooves us all to know when a friend or co-worker's trouble may have moved from some simple mood-swings into something that might require medical attention.

Forgiveness? Of course. My God requires that. Understanding? Sure. Science requires that. I'd also like some prevention, though, too.

( Posted by: andyhavens [Member] On: April 29, 2007 )

Dear Doug

Thank you so very much for your reply.I think both Andy and yourself,have touched upon most of the 'angles' to this very tragic episode -that, willy-nilly ,has gone onto set yet another macabre record .

I think it was Andy who spoke , among other things, of compassion not being there (when it was most needed) and of a systemic failure . On the matter of compassion I have a small perspective I'd like to throw into the hat ( for whatever its worth).

As i watched two of his professors , a Lucinda Roy and a Nikki Giovanni , being interviewed I couldn't help but be struck by the sordid similarities of all both had to say about him.

There they were ,the two of them , their faces lit up by unholy glee , going on and on about what a despicable , loathsome and sick individual he was - and how they'd more than once thrown him out of their lectures. It was crystal clear that both were milking their moment in the spotlight for all it was worth ( straining every nerve and fibre to bump up the sales of their own published works ).

If this be the attitude of the professors ( who are considered to be much more enlightened ) then how can we, in all fairness and reasonableness, expect more from the rest- students, the police and even the journalists.

( Posted by: RJKT [Member] On: April 29, 2007 )

On the other hand...
One of the other professors at VT blocked a doorway with his own body, dying in the process as the killer shot through the door over and over again, so that a few more of his students might escape out the classroom window.

( Posted by: andyhavens [Member] On: May 6, 2007 )

Andyhavens & RJKT
I enjoyed reading each of your fine comments!

Your friend,

( Posted by: dougsoderstrom [Member] On: May 7, 2007 )

Andy -with apolgies to Doug.

There could well have been several more stories of heroism that will not see the light of day .

I do realize that most Indians ( from India that is ) are perceived as being inherently prone to non -violence a la M.K. Gandhi . However one wonders whether the two Indians who perished on that day - a Prof. G.V. Loganathan and a student Minal Panchal -did not offer themselves up so that some others might live.

(Ah but then , it must be said that ,we Indians are not particularly good at calling attention to ourselves : preferring to look to the future -and soldier on with appropriately bowed head -rather than dwell on past injustices and oppressions -which are legion.)

( Posted by: RJKT [Member] On: May 10, 2007 )

Dear Doug
It's perhaps best if one were to speak plainly . I would like to make the point that the following are remarks made in general and not aimed at any particular individual or group.

First and foremost ,a bit of a backgrounder- to put things in proper perspective : one has never set foot in the West(nor have really very much of a desire to) .Therefore one's impressions about the West and Westerners are at several removes.

I come from a country that does not have any kind of an adversarial relationship with the West ;and whose people are innately predisposed to shying away from violence ( quite unlike our Western fellow human beings).

Yet strangely ,the tide of public opinion out here is not exactly favourable either to the West- or to Westerners . For instance, when 9/11 happened there was hardly very much outpouring of public grief and sympathy .In fact it was quite the reverse: one often heard people say that 'they'd ' got their long -deserved comeuppance. One has little doubt that each of the subsequent strikes -in Madrid and London - must surely have, by the same token,evoked inward cheering in many quarters.

Why does this have to be so .I suppose the short answer is : deeply ingrained 'us' vs 'them' attitudes . ( Or 'untermenschen' vs 'ubermenschen' if you will .)

Very likely this stems from a deep and abiding distrust ( and perhaps a loathing )of the West . Many perceive Westerners as a people absolutely intoxicated by the notion of their innate superiority .. swaggering across the world .. very cynically playing one set of coloured folk off against the others ..etc .

Much of this can be laid at the feet of hundreds of years of colonial domination. However ,the final nail in the coffin has to be the post War neo colonial shenanigans : rendered far more pernicious by its very character -or lack of it.

A final thought : excuse my saying so ,but can you imagine the backlash ,had the mass murderer not been from one of the cherished vassal states of the US.

( Posted by: RJKT [Member] On: May 11, 2007 )

Dear Doug
Dear Doug

I suppose you could condense all that i've been trying to say into one extremely pithy word that sums it all up: schadenfreude.I understand the German language ( which i 'm completely in the dark about) has several such words ( weltanschaung,zeitgeist,gesundheit are the ones that spring to mind ) - that say it far better than streams of drivel ever could.

As one belonging to the race of underdogs, one could well go on an on . About Westerners ,in general ,being perceived as: egotistic ,incredibly 'in-one's-face' ,celebrity crazed,taking depravity to new 'heights' (with padeophilia , stalking and hanging around chat rooms and such like being their diversions of choice), riding rough shod over the rest of the world , racist to the core etc.

But then ,would that be the way forward : going past our seemingly unbridgeable differences ,to reach out to others - jettisoning the baggage of the past injustices , oppressions and outrages .

Clearly not.

Yours sincerely


( Posted by: RJKT [Member] On: May 11, 2007 )

Doug- Dig it!

In my island of thought, it seems to me that any thinking person considers all possibilities. This thinking person rejects the reprehensible choices. Madness lies in accepting guilt for considering all options. Redemtion is found in the rejection of the unacceptable.

( Posted by: drsoos [Member] On: May 12, 2007 )

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