While we acknowledge that this post may stray a bit from our usual content, in the wake of the Las Vegas tragedy we believe this provocative content is worth reading by our followers. Excerpts from the article by Charlie Hoehn on beyourself.
“There’s probably no way to ever know why a human being could do something like this to other human beings.”
Sadly, researchers know a lot about why human beings — particularly men — do things like this.
Why mass shootings keep happening
It’s tempting to say the mass shooter’s motive was simply “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 — might be missing.
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.”
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 own. Real 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.
“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.
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.
2- Men in the United States are deprived of play opportunities.
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.
Above all, play is how we bond with each other — it’s how we communicate “I am safe to be around, I am not a threat.” Play is how we form connections with other humans. 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.
There is a 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.
This is in alignment with Dr. Peter Gray’s research, who studied the epidemic 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 may be 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 have no emotional support.
They are alone.
Universal among 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.
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?
Friendship: The love and support you get, from the people you play with.
“I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?” — Stand by Me, final line
Whatever the case, these factors about mass shooters are often true:
- They are deeply lonely. They have no significant friendships to rely on, and very few quality people to confide in.
- They experienced ongoing play deprivation. Their innate ability was crippled, and they struggle to maintain a healthy emotional connection with themselves and others.
- They are deeply ashamed. They experienced extreme ridicule, rejection, or humiliation.