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Thoughts on The Vegas Shooting (or Why Men Keep Doing This)

article via Medium

Charlie Hoehn

I’ll never forget April 20th, 1999.

I was 12 years old, sitting in art class in middle school. We were playing with clay and making sculptures.

Suddenly, our principal came on over the PA. Her voice trembled.

“I have an important announcement to make. All teachers and students need to hear this. I will wait 60 seconds for everyone to be completely silent.”

The next minute was eerie. My friends and I exchanged confused looks, and nervously laughed. Our teacher held her finger to her lips. Silence.

The principal’s voice came back onto the PA:

“There is a shooting at Columbine high school. All students are to go home immediately.”

Columbine was 15 minutes away from us.

I remember taking the bus home, and walking into my house. My mom turned on the news. I recognized that fence. We’ve driven by that fence.

My mom knew the teacher. Dave Sanders. She’d substituted with him at Columbine.

In the last 18 years, we Americans have experienced too many of these shootings. And I want to share a few of my thoughts on why I think they keep happening.

By the way, this isn’t a political post about guns, or the media. It’s a post about mental health.

Over the past few years, I’ve found myself in the mental health space. And I’ve learned a lot about mental illness. Particularly that men in the United States REALLY struggle in this realm, and have very little support.

I believe mental illness is the single greatest health crisis we will face in our lifetimes. Mental illness affects every single person on the planet, whether we are personally ill or not.

If we have a better understanding of what causes mental illness, we don’t have to be so afraid. We can take better care of each other, and prevent these tragedies from happening.

Sadly, most Americans still fail to address mental illness as a massive problem. It’s still taboo, still stigmatized.

I was watching Jimmy Kimmel’s impassioned, raw speech last night about the Vegas shootings. Like Jimmy, I felt sick and heartbroken by the tragedy. But something he said stood out to me:

“There’s probably no way to ever know why a human being could do something like this to other human beings.”

Sadly, researchers know exactly why human beings do things like this.

There are clear reasons. And they are preventable.

Why mass shootings keep happening.

It’s tempting to call these shooters “psychopaths” and “pure evil,” or to blame the media or guns, but that absolves us of looking deeply at what each of us — as individuals, family members, friends, and community members — could all be getting wrong.

Now, I’m not a psychiatrist. And I don’t know very much about the Vegas shooter. I’m just a guy who studies mental health.

Again, this is not a political post about guns, for the same reason it’s not a political post about weaponized cars. I’m not as interested in the tool as I am in what causes a person to use it so destructively.

Nor is this a post in defense of the shooter. What he did was beyond horrific. He is not excused from this by any stretch (though I truly feel sympathy for the shooter’s brother, who seemed to be totally caught off guard by this behavior, and now he has to deal with the aftermath for the rest of his life).

The goal of this post is simply to shine a light on the root causes of men committing mass shootings.

1- Men in the United States are chronically lonely.

Boys in the United States — just like all human beings — need touch, caring, warmth, empathy, and close relationships. But as we grow up, most of us lose those essential components of our humanity.

What’s worse: we have no idea how to ask for those things, or admit we need them, because we’re afraid it will make us look weak.

As a man, you might be thinking, “Not me, I’ve got drinking buddies. I play poker with the guys. I’ve got friends.”

But do you have confidants? Do you have male friends who you can actually be vulnerable with? Do you have friends whom you can confide in, be 100% yourself around, that you can hug without saying “No homo,” without feeling tense or uncomfortable while you’re doing it?

For most men, the answer is “no.” So, we spend our time posturing instead.

From an early age, we have an unhealthy ideal of masculinity that we try to live up to. Part of that ideal tells us that Real men do everything on their ownReal men don’t cry. Real men express anger through violence.

The byproduct is isolation. Most men spend the majority of their adult lives without deeper friendships, or any real sense of community. Not to mention a complete inability to release anger or sadness in a healthy way.

There is a fantastic documentary called The Mask You Live In, which explains how boys in our society are ultimately shaped into mentally unstable adults. My friend Ryan recommended this film to me, after confiding that he cried throughout the entire thing. I cried, as well. 

Simon Sinek echoed similar insights on Glenn Beck’s show:

“We’re seeing a rise of loneliness and isolation. No one kills themselves when they’re hungry; we kill ourselves when we’re lonely. And we act out, as well.
In the 1960’s, there was one school shooting.
In the 1980’s, there were 27.
In the 1990’s, there were 58.
In the past decade, there have been over 120.
It has nothing to do with guns, it has to do with people feeling lonely.
How do we combat the loneliness that kids are feeling? All of them attacked people in their own community, and all of them attack people they blamed for their own loneliness.”

This loneliness compounds as men grow older.

Without deeper friendships or a strong sense of community, the isolation is soul-deadening and maddening. You are alone.

Any slight from someone you care about can feel emotionally traumatizing. After enough rejections and feeling like an outcast, you begin to believe that people are just cruel and not worth the effort. You perceive people as threats.

Before we ask, “How could he do such a thing?” we have to understand how he felt on a daily basis, and how those feelings grew over the years.

2- Men in the United States are deprived of play opportunities.

You might be offended by this suggestion.

How could this guy talk about play after a shooting?! Play is for kids!

Wrong.

Homo sapiens play more than any other species. It’s impossible to prevent a human from playing. We play shortly after we are born, and the healthiest (and least stressed) humans tend to play for their entire lives.

Play may be God’s greatest gift to mankind. It’s how we form friendships, and learn skills, and master difficult things that help us survive. Play is a release valve for stress, and an outlet for creativity. Play brings us music, comedy, dance, and everything we value.

The irony is that loneliness would not be a problem if we all got ample time to play. Not only would we have deeper friendships, we’d also have better relationships with ourselves. Play allows us to enjoy our own company. If you truly know how to play, you are rarely alone.

But that is not the state of affairs in the United States. We are lonely because we don’t play, and we don’t play because we are alone.

There is a very strong correlation with play deprivation and mental illness.

When you deprive mammals of play, it leads to chronic depression. When you deprive a human child of play, their mental and emotional health deteriorate. Play suppression has enormous health consequences.

“But the Vegas shooter loved to gamble! He went on cruises!”

That’s not the type of play I’m talking about.

To better understand this dynamic, we need to look at the background of another mass shooter.

In 1966, Charles Whitman shot his wife and mother. Then, he climbed up the tower at the University of Texas in Austin, and shot 46 people. In total, he murdered 16 people. At the time, this was the biggest mass shooting in United States history.

Dr. Stuart Brown and his team of researchers were commissioned to find out what “The Texas Sniper” had in common with other mass murderers.

They found the key when they looked at their childhoods.

Brown recalls:

“None of them engaged in healthy rough-and-tumble play. The linkages that lead to Charles Whitman producing this crime was an unbelievable suppression of play behavior throughout his life by a very overbearing, very disturbed father.”

In other words: Healthy and joyful play must be had in order to thrivePlay is how we bond, and form our deepest connections with other human beings.

It’s 10 o’clock. Do you know where your kids are?

Ever since that famous ad aired, parents have shamed each other into watching their kids like a hawk.

If you let your kid walk up the street alone, you’ll either get a call from another parent, or the cops will pick them up. Our kids are stripped of their right to experience life on their own terms.

In an effort to improve our kids’ test scores and beef up their future resumes, we’ve stripped away nearly all of their free play opportunities. Recess has been sacrificed in the name of Scantrons, and pills are prescribed to the kids whose bodies and minds cry out for play.

The result: A generation of the most anxious, depressed, and suicidal American children on record.

This is all in alignment with Dr. Peter Gray’s research, who studied the rise of mental illness and the decline in play:

“Over the past half century, in the United States and other developed nations, children’s free play with other children has declined sharply. Over the same period, anxiety, depression, suicide, feelings of helplessness, and narcissism have increased sharply in children, adolescents, and young adults… The decline in play has contributed to the rise in the psychopathology of young people.

This is why I believe mental illness is the biggest health crisis of our lifetimes. Because those kids will grow up into isolated adults who don’t know how to play, or seek out their friends when they are lonely.

They are alone.

In the most memorable chapter of So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, the author describes the research of James Gilligan, a young psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School in the 1970s.

Gilligan was invited to make sense of the Massachusetts’s prisons and mental hospitals, where he interviewed murderous inmates. He included in his notebook this heartbreaking observation:

“They would all say that they themselves had died before they started killing other people… They felt dead inside. They had no capacity for feelings. No emotional feelings. Or even physical feelings.
Universal among the violent criminals was the fact that they were keeping a secret. A central secret. And that secret was that they felt ashamed— deeply ashamed, chronically ashamed, acutely ashamed.
I have yet to see a serious act of violence that was not provoked by the experience of feeling shamed or humiliated, disrespected and ridiculed.”

ALL OF US will face difficult times in our lives where we will experience shame, humiliation, disrespect, and ridicule.

Do you know what gets us through those hard times?

Do you know what the difference is between you and a killer?

Friendship: Love and support from the people you played with.

I often think of the final line of Stand by Me:

“I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12… Jesus, does anyone?”

I don’t know much about the Vegas shooter. Maybe he was a psychopath.

But I’m guessing he wasn’t.

Instead, I am betting that these factors about him were likely true:

  1. He felt deeply lonely. He had no significant friendships to rely on, and very few quality people he could confide in.
  2. He experienced play deprivation. He didn’t have joyful fun with himself, or with others.
  3. He carried with him a deep sense of shame. About what, I have no idea.

Even though we’re in the safest period in the history of civilization, these shootings will keep happening in America. They happen every single day. Guns are a part of the problem, and so is the media. But there is a bigger problem.

We are a culture that continually neglects the mental health of our boys, and our men.

The good news is that you, as an individual, can make a difference. Reach out to someone who you think could be lonely, and go do something fun together. Confide in each other. Be a safe and supportive person to be around.

If you’ve noticed their personality has drastically changed, invite them out for several hours. Be there for them. You could save their life.

And it wouldn’t hurt to have these books in your library, either:

1- Mental Health Emergencies

2- Play

3- Fearvana

The First White President

The foundation of Donald Trump’s presidency is the negation of Barack Obama’s legacy.

 Jesse Draxler; Photo: David Hume Kennerly / Getty

Jesse Draxler; Photo: David Hume Kennerly / Getty

via The Atlantic

by 

IT IS INSUFFICIENT TO STATE the obvious of Donald Trump: that he is a white man who would not be president were it not for this fact. With one immediate exception, Trump’s predecessors made their way to high office through the passive power of whiteness—that bloody heirloom which cannot ensure mastery of all events but can conjure a tailwind for most of them. Land theft and human plunder cleared the grounds for Trump’s forefathers and barred others from it. Once upon the field, these men became soldiers, statesmen, and scholars; held court in Paris; presided at Princeton; advanced into the Wilderness and then into the White House. Their individual triumphs made this exclusive party seem above America’s founding sins, and it was forgotten that the former was in fact bound to the latter, that all their victories had transpired on cleared grounds. No such elegant detachment can be attributed to Donald Trump—a president who, more than any other, has made the awful inheritance explicit. His political career began in advocacy of birtherism, that modern recasting of the old American precept that black people are not fit to be citizens of the country they built. But long before birtherism, Trump had made his worldview clear. He fought to keep blacks out of his buildings, according to the U.S. government; called for the death penalty for the eventually exonerated Central Park Five; and railed against “lazy” black employees. “Black guys counting my money! I hate it,” Trump was once quoted as saying. “The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.” After his cabal of conspiracy theorists forced Barack Obama to present his birth certificate, Trump demanded the president’s college grades (offering $5 million in exchange for them), insisting that Obama was not intelligent enough to have gone to an Ivy League school, and that his acclaimed memoir, Dreams From My Father, had been ghostwritten by a white man, Bill Ayers. 

It is often said that Trump has no real ideology, which is not true—his ideology is white supremacy, in all its truculent and sanctimonious power. Trump inaugurated his campaign by casting himself as the defender of white maidenhood against Mexican “rapists,” only to be later alleged by multiple accusers, and by his own proud words, to be a sexual violator himself. White supremacy has always had a perverse sexual tint. Trump’s rise was shepherded by Steve Bannon, a man who mocks his white male critics as “cucks.” The word, derived from cuckold, is specifically meant to debase by fear and fantasy—the target is so weak that he would submit to the humiliation of having his white wife lie with black men. That the slur cuck casts white men as victims aligns with the dicta of whiteness, which seek to alchemize one’s profligate sins into virtue. So it was with Virginia slaveholders claiming that Britain sought to make slaves of them. So it was with marauding Klansmen organized against alleged rapes and other outrages. So it was with a candidate who called for a foreign power to hack his opponent’s email and who now, as president, is claiming to be the victim of “the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history.”

In Trump, white supremacists see one of their own. Only grudgingly did Trump denounce the Ku Klux Klan and David Duke, one of its former grand wizards—and after the clashes between white supremacists and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August, Duke in turn praised Trump’s contentious claim that “both sides” were responsible for the violence.

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