I asked the graduate students in my child psychopathology class about their reactions to the Boston Marathon bombings. Their surprise that I would ask confused me. Was I really the first to ask?
It seems as though we haven’t found a way to have the tough, complicated discussions that might be the only thing we can do about violence and terrorism. It may be important to move on and get back to normal. But what if what has been going on isn’t normal? See below for an overview of my students’ and clients’ comments (printed anonymously to perserve confidentiality).
We Have Been Living with Violence Since We Were Children
“Ever since 9/11 it seems as though there is a violent event a couple of times per year.”
“It started with Columbine”
“This year was the worst – the hurricane, the murderous nanny, Sandy Hook Elementary, and now this.”
“It isn’t unusual anymore.”
“Its been this way since we were kids . . . after awhile they don’t seem like separate events. It’s one long streak of terror disguised by different excuses or causes.”
“Its not rare anymore.”
They All Seem Related
“I’m not saying that they are related, but after awhile, they all seem related. It’s like guess what, somebody else blew up some people today.”
“The Boston Marathon bombings seemed more like a slightly more advanced version of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold than terrorism.”
“Here is the simple structure: Someone or some persons who is either alienated, mentally ill, or seeking revenge is exposed to violent video games, religious fundamentalists or violent movies and they go out and shoot or bomb many innocent people.”
“These aren’t isolated events anymore. They are part of a pattern. We are stuck in a very frightening cultural cycle. As long as we keep thinking about these episode as single events, we won’t be able to figure it out.”
No One Is Talking About It
“After 9/11 we didn’t talk. After Aurora we didn’t talk. After the hurricane, we didn’t talk. After the nanny incident we didn’t talk. After Sandy Hook, we didn’t talk. Now, we aren’t going to talk.”
“As long as we keep living life as normal we won’t ever see the abnormality of people randomly killing a bunch of people.”
“Everyone has a theory but we aren’t talking together to try and understand it.”
“The world has changed. We need to talk about this.”
These comments reflect only a sampling of what I am hearing from young people, and some not so young people. Something about what our world has become seems to have unlatched the gates on human aggression. Maybe it has something to do with our tolerance for guns and media violence. Maybe the loss of strong ethics, values and institutions impacts the way humans can organize and contain aggression. I keep thinking about the need for early limit setting or some type of curtailment of what can show up on the internet but I don’t want to be in this conversation alone because I don’t have the answers.
All I know is that mass murder isn’t new, and the list formidable. But something seems patterned and repetitive about what has been transpiring in the lifetime of my twenty-something year old students. But we can’t keep blaming Islam, as per Marc Ambinder. We have to talk about this violence, collectively. Only then will we be able to understand this moment in our time. Only then can we begin to figure out what to do.