November 13, 2007

Let's ignore the computer issues whilst posting today, okay? Okay.

Before my computer went wonky, I was in the midst of contemplating writing about not just the school shooting in Finland, but the rage that precedes such events.

It seems to me that most of the "developed" or "Western" world has a serious issue at the moment. We have this incredible tension between the needs of the community and the needs of the individual. In the U.S. we see this tension even more sharply than some other civilised countries, I think, because there is a such an incredible emphasis on "you can be anything you want to be."

Unfortunately, the second half of that phrase has been left off of the popular culture: if you are willing to devote everything to that desire. And sometimes, realistically, not even then.

So let's say you are 15. You have reached that age by which you are at least starting to see through the pat answers and platitudes of the adults around you. You are now seeing through this myth that the "kids" around you will "grow up" and behave like "adults" ... and you see through this because it's becoming increasingly more clear to you that the adults around you often act as "childish" as the "popular" kids in your school.

You cannot do what you want.
You are expected to act more adult than the adults around you.
You are treated like a child.
You are beginning to believe that life does not actually get better after high school, just more complicated.
You are beginning to believe that those kids who have it easy in high school, the jocks, the rich kids, even the academic-oriented kids ... they are going to have everything.
You are beginning to believe that you are, in fact, not special.
Your hormones are coursing through your body, creating all sorts of havoc. And whilst you have heard this, it has happened so organically that it simply feels like this is your life, not hormones.

Why should others have it so easy? What have they done to deserve to have an easy life? Why do they get what they want when you have to struggle just to settle for your second or third choice? Dammit, "you can be anything you want to be" ... why do people say that? The privileged can be anything they want to be ... the rest of us can be grease monkeys instead of engineers ... CAD drafters instead of architects ... baggage handlers instead of pilots.

Charlie Decker, a high school senior, details how he had long been fighting his growing rage against the authority figures which populate his world. He finally snapped and hit one of his teachers with a heavy wrench he had taken to carrying in his pocket; after much wrangling and discussion, the incident was dropped and he was allowed to return to school. His mental problems only proceeded to get worse, and, as the actual story begins, during a meeting with the school principal, he snaps again. This time, he storms out of the meeting, goes to his locker and gets a gun he had previously taken from his father's desk. He sets the locker contents on fire, then proceeds to his classroom where he kills his math teacher Mrs. Underwood. The locker-fire sets off an alarm, and the school begins to be evacuated. Another teacher, Mr. Vance, comes into the classroom to tell the kids to leave, and Charlie shoots him as well. The school is evacuated even more quickly and the police and media arrive on the scene.
from Wikipedia

This is the plot beginning of Stephen King's least published Bachman book, Rage, published in 1977. King had asked his publishers to let the book drop out of print by 1999, after Michael Carneal killed three fellow students in Kentucky. Supposedly the boy had a copy of Rage in his locker. King stated at the Vermont Library Conference in 1999:

Do I think that Rage may have provoked Carneal, or any other badly adjusted young person, to resort to the gun? It's an important question, because it goes to the very heart of the wrangle over who's to blame. You might as well ask if I believe that the mere presence of a gun makes some people want to use that gun. The answer is troubling, but it needs to be faced: in some cases, yes. Probably it does. Often? No, I don't believe so. How often is too often? That's not for me or any other single person to say. It's a question each part of our society must answer for itself, as each state, for instance, must answer the question of when a kid is old enough to have a driver's license or buy a drink.

Some of us are equipped either by nature, nurture ... or by support network ... to work through the rage.

Others of us are not.

We question when an adult does something horrific. When an adult murders and murders, we want to know what causes someone to go so wrong.

But when a child strikes out, we wail. When it's a teen, we are on the fence. If a child is old enough to plot mayhem and destruction, then he should be considered an adult, according to some.

But the situation is simply not that pat.

The most poignant line of the excellent The Incredibles movie is when Dash and his mom are talking in the car. Helen tells her son, "Everyone's special, Dash." He replies, "Which is another way of saying no one is."

They are both correct and this tension between everyone being special in some way ... and the overemphasis of the too-simplistic "everyone is special" can create an unreasoning rage in hormone ridden teenagers.

What pushes one pissed off adolescent to mass murder, another to suicide, another to suffer through, and another to quietly implode?

I think this is the real question for us to ask when confronted with yet another school shooting.

In fact, this is the question for any person-induced tragedy, not just adolescents. We simply tend to be more apt to wail about a 15 year old than a 25 year old and wail more about a 25 year old than a 35 year old.

However, that kind of unthinking age discrimination frustrates me. That 35 year old has likely been carrying the rage of the 15 year old for 20 years, trying to control it, trying to grow past it. And one day, it just seems to finally be a pressure too much to bear.

When we couple this type of "it's unfair" rage with the size of our societies, it amazes me not that such incidents happen, but that they do not happen more often. Rather than speaking of worst of humanity, I think the fact that these explosions do not happen on such large scales more frequently, particularly in the larger areas, I'm amazed at how this speaks more of the inherent goodness prevalent within people that they can refrain from this type of rage release on a regular basis.

Don't misunderstand me - I find mass murder abhorrent and an aberration. However, in looking at the rage behind the behaviour, and with the ease of which so many people can hide in our society (many without even meaning to hide) ... I am amazed.

I know a woman who refuses to live in a neighborhood where all of the neighbors know each other. She does not want the attention. This same woman is a devout Episcopalian, but refuses to go to a small church ... she does not want the attention. She works in a large company as a nameless drudge ... she does not want the attention.

She hides from our society, and the size of our society allows her to do this quite easily.

I think of the high schools with only grades 10-12 with 1000 students per grade level. 30 teens per class. Teachers harried by unnecessary paperwork, discipline issues, more grading than they can accomplish in a 40 or even 50 hour workweek.

How easy is it for those teens to hide in plain sight? To "get by" doing what they need to do to remain under the radar ... and all the while raging that no one really notices them for who they are.

It takes a great deal of effort to reach out to just one teen who feels so slighted and as if no one listens to her or takes her seriously. It takes more effort than most of us feel we can expend.

And if that teen has a broken "pressure release valve" ....

So, what do we do? Do we quit emphasizing that everyone is special? Do we emphasize more fully that we are all unique instead of the more generic "special"? Do we mouth inane patter designed to make everyone feel good (until they realize that it's only inane patter)? Do we make an effort to reach out to all members of our community? How do we reach out to those who have decided they don't want nor need our attention? And how do we sort out those people who truly don't need our attention from those who say they don't need it ... but who desperately do need the human connections?

Guns might make it easier to harm more people in a short amount of time, but the issue is not really about the tools used to wreak havoc. The issue is what is it within us that causes a need for wreaking that kind of havoc?

How do we create the connections we need to feel less isolated and alone and more a part of something?

How do we weigh the balance of our need to be individuals ... and the good of the society around us?

Posted by Red Monkey at November 13, 2007 9:15 AM | Struggles | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |


jodi said:

*peeks from around the corner....is it safe?

I love when you write like this!

grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.third try at captcha(yeah cpatcha this dang it all to mighty &^#$*(#(*$&^#(*$&()@Q&#)

4th try

lets see how many times the blond does it until she gets it....wanna talk rage?

November 14, 2007 7:50 PM


newnorth said:

wow, that was excellent.

... I know this isn't exactly what you were talking about but it reminded me of it. Somewhere (and for the life of me I can't remember where) I read about how some criminals complain about people not understanding them. ...It's a tough thing thinking no one understand you.

November 20, 2007 8:07 PM
Free Pixel Advertisement for your blog