I don’t often read the news these days…and for good reason. There’s enough tragedy flashing up on my social media feeds already that I’m going to have to increase my antidepressant dosage.
The media have referred to Salvador Ramos as a man. He only just turned 18 last Monday. He’s a child; not a man. But he has been described to have been the shooter behind the killing of 19 children and 2 of their teachers in Uvalde, a city of about 16000 people nestled between the Texan/Mexican border and San Antonio in the USA.
If you were like me having come across that piece of news, I’m sure you would have felt sickened, shocked, outraged, saddened, confused, anxious and maybe frightened?
We’ve seen this before. Remember Columbine? Sandy Hook? South Florida? Buffalo? South Texas, and many other tragic events involving kids killing kids. The news talk about the who/what/when/where/how but hardly the why. I suppose it’s easy to let our emotions get the better of us and we can hypothesise and speculate till the cows come home without finding a satisfactory answer, because in the end it’s still happened and it’s still awful whether we understand the factors that culminated in those horrific events.
It’s easy to point the finger. We want a scapegoat. Is it lax gun policy? Is it video games? Is it social media? Is it the government? The economy? Is it COVID? Demons? Mental health problems?
At a press conference, Texas Governor Greg Abott described how “evil swept through Uvalde” and called for more mental health resources (though it’s not known whether Ramos had mental health problems or not); Democratic rep Beto O’Rourke exclaimed “this is on you!” pointing at the governor.
All of the shooters have been lonely socially awkward young men who have ‘flown’ under the radar so to speak. Ramos for example had dropped out of high school. He announced on social media that he was going to shoot his grandmother - and then he shot her - and then he announced that he shot her on social media. Who was he trying to reach? What was this about? There were no signs of trouble before hand right? Maybe that’s the problem? We didn’t we see this coming? How could we have? I think about Nikolas Cruz (19), who shot 17 people dead; he was expelled from school for ‘disciplinary reasons’. But expelled where? To nowhere? Left to his own devices? No follow up?
Does empathising with these troubled young men help us in any way? I think it does. But first I want to emphasise that empathy does not mean condone. And in no way does it excuse the grotesque acts of violence carried out but I think it does help pave the way to understanding them. Why? Why do we want to do that for goodness sakes? Well, if we don’t, we won’t understand the very factors that lead them towards acting out in such ways. We want to prevent these things right? I hope that is not wishful naive thinking. And I don’t claim to know the answers but I hope that this is part of the answer.
When you read and learn about these young guys; all of them were lonely. Socially ostracised. Marginalised. Misunderstood. Invalidated. Angry. Anxious. Disconnected. They had no place where they felt grounded. They looked to fantasy to discharge their emotions. That wasn’t enough. Some had some help from caring adults and students. But it wasn’t enough…
In the digital age, we’ve become increasingly disconnected from one another. Little islands, floating in a sea of unsettledness. Increasingly suspicious, mistrustful, wary but yet we remain curious about one another don’t we…we dive into the infinite scroll of social media and get stuck in this weird state of being entertained but dissatisfied with ourselves. We stop reaching out to others because everyone else is unable to give us what we need since we’re all already disconnected. So we all invalidate each other. We need each other, but we can’t seem to connect very well with one another. Where are our anchors?
And so, no Mr Abott and Mr O’Rourke. This is not on you. This is not on them. This. IS. ON. US. All of us. WE are all to blame for this tragedy. But WE can turn this around.
Let’s give more than we consume.
Let’s connect first before we download and scroll through each other’s lives.
Let’s learn how to empathise with one another again.
We have a lot of work to do if we're going to help ourselves out of this mess, but we've got to start somewhere; and it starts with empathy. We need empathy more than ever and who owe it to ourselves and our kids.
Sometimes kids have a hard time talking to you about things when they need the most help. Learn to use emotional intelligence and empathic connection to gain co-operation without the friction.