Thursday, March 20, 2014

There Is No Understanding

I was running errands and listening to NPR when they began this interview with Andrew Solomon, writer of the article "The Reckoning" in the New Yorker. The topic of the interview was that same article, wherein Peter Lanza broke his media silence about the Sandy Hook shootings and the perpetrator, his son Adam Lanza.

The interview gripped me. I couldn't turn off the radio until I heard the whole thing. So many tough issues: mental disabilities, depression, violence, and the overarching question of what leads someone to do something so terrible.

I'm not normally into dark media stories. I'm all about the funny and cheerful. My personal experience tells me how the world sucks; what I need is to hear stories about what's good in it.

But I want to stay informed. So even when things in Ukraine turned violent, I kept listening to the news. When the Malaysian aircraft went missing, I listened. When the interview with Solomon came on and they began to talk about Sandy Hook, at first I wanted to change the station. But then I listened, because I don't want to pretend it never happened.

Violence is something we don't understand. When you get past the speculative websites and sensational media stories, when you get down to the facts, all you find is painful confusion. Over and over we try to piece together what made someone a perpetrator of mass violence. It's not even that we want someone to blame; "if only the mother had done this, if only his psychiatrist had noticed that..." No, what we really want is to know why, so we can prevent it from happening again.

We want to know that the perpetrator was insane, so that we know our own children won't do the same things. Isn't that it? We want to believe that the people who would go to a school and shoot innocent children aren't normal people.

Yet we have no more a handle on mass murderers today than we ever did.

I can't help thinking about the [wild] claims we toss around regarding the sources of violence. Things like how abusers come from the ranks of the abused. That children who grow up around guns will be more likely to use them. Though these claims may provide false comfort for some, they fuel false fear in others.

I've heard that the two shooters of Columbine had a gruesome sense of humor and art. They made videos and wrote stories that were graphically violent. These, along with other little details--violent videogames, for instance--are compiled into a list of facts that we associate with the violence done at Columbine. Because Columbine happened, those dots all connect.

But if Columbine hadn't happened, the dots would've been connected differently: they'd just be two kids who were good at gruesome storytelling. Authors have gotten famous for the same.

In junior high, I wrote a graphic story that involved torture. I shared some of it with my parents, and they looked scared, so I never shared any more of it with them. Writing that story was my way of trying to make sense of the violence that had happened to me. I was trying to understand my pain. It was my way of sorting through my past, and definitely not a violent fantasy about the future.

I am a survivor of abuse; does that make me more likely to be an abuser? That idea floats out there among the flotsam of our culture, and false though we've proven it to be, sometimes I have wondered. I have wondered if I should even have children. I gave up nannying because I was increasingly frustrated with the child's unresponsiveness and lack of interest. I feared I didn't love her enough to be her primary caretaker. My lack of love for a child terrified me. Don't normal people love children? Don't most people love children even when the child is frustrating? Is there something wrong with me because I am angry at a toddler for things she isn't in control of?

But if lack of love is the same as abuse, every child in the world has suffered severe trauma.

Because I've survived abuse, some people say I should be more likely to abuse others. Some people say I should be more likely to be a lesbian and a man-hater. But I'm neither. I've written violent, gruesome stories, but I've never hurt anyone, let alone dreamed of killing anyone, besides myself. I've never hurt a child. If anything, I've been too concerned with not hurting the child, and spoiled them.*

Lots of people out there are like me. Lots of people have survived abuse. They've gone on to live normal lives. Sometimes, a violent history or writing violent stories can be a telltale sign of much worse to come. But usually it isn't. Far more often, these people are just...people.

The dots connect. Or they don't.

There may be "risk factors" for whether a person is likely to be a violent criminal. But that's all they are: risk factors. If you came to me with your chest hurting, I would be wrong to assume you're having a heart attack, especially if you just ran 10 miles. The source of your pain isn't life-threatening; you just need to catch your breath.

The same symptoms can mean something completely different in a different situation, in different people.

I don't know that we'll ever understand violence. We call it senseless and then look for reasons; but maybe it truly is senseless. We can't understand it. There are no reasons that scientific minds can unlock.

Maybe that's okay. Maybe it's better if we don't understand. If one day we can get inside the minds of the worst criminals, I don't think we'll like what we find there. I don't think it will give us any more peace. Some things aren't meant to make sense.

Word count: 1,013.

* My apologies to the parents of children I've babysat.