Yes, I’m sorry for their victims and the loved ones they and their victims left behind, but I’m starting to view murderers as victims too. Whether they murdered in the name of Allah or Jesus, whether they murdered to “protect” their race, whether they murdered to innact revenge or increase their wallet size, or there was no motive and they were just “psychotic.” There are so many motives for murder – probably a nearly infinite list due to the complexity of being human. And I feel this way because I don’t think anyone is a murderer by choice, and it took some serious amount or depth of anguish for them to arrive at that point to commit such an act, and no one chooses that for themselves.
In the child psychology class I took last Spring, the thing that stuck with me was how much happens in a child’s brain during the formative years. There is so much growth and development happening at the socioemotional level during the entire 18 years, but especially in the first few. How many children are born into “ideal” conditions? It’s easy as an upper middle class white woman to idealize motherhood as this beautiful gift of life filled with a balance of love and snuggles and challenges and tantrums but that it’s all worth it in the end to watch your baby grow and become an amazing contributer to our world in one way or another. But what if you’re a teen mom with absentee parents that never showed you the gift of loving, engaged and disciplinary parenting, and you accidentally got knocked up while searching for belonging in the world around you. You have no job, and now your own future looks bleak, and you’re in charge of raising another? If you didn’t have a good experience in life so far, what kind of hope would you have in raising a child in your world? What kind of resentment might you bring to parenting if you’d never known a healthy relationship? So then your child doesn’t have that solid start in the world that is so important to a healthy well-being. This is a cycle, and one that happens all too commonly in our nation. Take this scenario to the Middle East or Africa, where you are born into a community where violence is the norm on the streets, most often in the name of religion or heritage. Feuds between sects run thousands of years long and it is ingrained in you from birth what is “right” and who is “wrong” and that death is fair punishment for non-compliance. This is all you know. This is all your friend’s and family know. This is all your country knows.
Those are just a couple obvious examples of how people can end up so “evil” – when they have been raised around emotional vacancy and/or violence – what else would they know? But there are others who have had seemingly easy, loving upbringings, and something else “triggers” their violence. This could be any number of things – bullying, major life stress, chronic illness, for example. And perhaps layered with all these life experiences we have varied genetics that affect how our minds and bodies respond to these experiences – the degree to which they impact us; our resiliency. Maybe there is a genetic pre-disposition to a mental disorder that could cause violent behavior. Still, that wouldn’t be the murderer’s fault. Blame their parents, yet again.
On top of the above variables, I will add the health/lifestyle variables. While pharmaceutical companies aren’t big on sharing this info, it is well documented that many lifestyle factors are effective treatments for depression and anxiety. I know healthy eating, time spent outdoors, and regularly exercise in this country are the exception and not the rule, especially as you move away from the wealthy end of the spectrum. So when this kind of lifestyle isn’t the norm, depression/anxiety are lurking nearby, and we know those things can become a vicious cycle for many that deal with it.
So take all the above, layer on increasing social disconnection as we bury our faces in electronic devices, the mainstream media news that we’re reading on our devices is trying to be provocative and further divide us on emotionally charged issues. Oh, also, I forgot to mention possible environmental toxicity in our air, water, food, clothing…blah blah blah. Basically, there are SO MANY WAYS a person can “become evil” or “go crazy.” It’s not really that unbelievable when you consider all of the above and that many people in our world are living with most of the above. It’s a wonder we don’t see more disgusting, evil things going on. And maybe I’m sheltered since I’m an American upper middle class white woman. My exposure to some of this is limited, but I’ve had my share of mild to moderate depression and anxiety. It has made me feel crazy at times, so I can’t imagine what others with more complex issues feel.
But this is why I feel sorry for murderers (and those that commit suicide). Their pain and desperation from whatever combination of the above or not yet mentioned must be so unbearable that they cannot rationally think or act. I cannot even begin to fathom what goes through their minds when planning or acting out in harming themselves or others, but I know it is dark and full of pain. Even if they claim a motive or some “cause,” it is not some joy they get out of committing evil acts. It is a misguided release of hurt and anger, perhaps an attempt to rid their body of that feeling by ending their life or tranferring it to others. I don’t know, but I truly don’t believe they rationally chose to be there. The pain someone else or something caused them, whether accidental or on purpose, has affected them in a deeply damaging way.
Obviously this has been on my mind due to a recent local teen suicide and the tragedy in Las Vegas. And I’m not bringing up this point in lieu of the need for reform to the manner in which the public can purchase firearms. I just think it’s way more complicated than that. This is a culmination of events and things I’ve been thinking on and reading recently surrounding empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. We want to stay comfortable and be right, but at what cost? It’s something we desperately need more of so that we can start helping each other heal from whatever damage we’ve all taken over the years.