Could Newtown Massacre be Latent Effect of Bullying?

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo is expressing embarrassment at just how much the press got wrong, yesterday, as they rushed to tell us anything they could about the terrible slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Perhaps he also feels mortified by the press tweets to families and friends of the victims looking for a story.

I mean, I’m not a member of the fourth estate, and I’m mortified by it.

But as we wonder what happened, why it happened and what motivated this terribly dark day, I am interested in this: Nancy Lanza was apparently not a teacher at the school.

So, the conjectures that the shooter was buzzed in by a principal who recognized him is out the window, and in fact it looks like he busted a window to gain access to the school.

And Charles Krauthammer’s suggestion last night that this was a psychologically-rooted event — that by shooting his mother in the face and then killing “everything she loved” in those teachers and students, there was evidence of deep hatred and anger — was half on track.

But if it turns out that Nancy Lanza had no connection to this school, which the shooter attended as a boy, then I really can’t help but wonder if the psychology behind this — which we may never know — was not a latent lashing out in response to being bullied by elementary school classmates?

Shooters go off, and they lash out, particularly if they have had a psychotic episode: it’s worth noting that schizophrenia often manifests in young males the shooter’s age. This shooter was described as “different” and socially awkward. When he broke, did he return to the place of his greatest pain, his first social rejection?

I was a bullied kid; I know the pain remains — you remember the name of every kid who pushed you down, pulled your hair, encouraged others to mockery, all of your life. If you can forgive and get past it, and begin to reclaim yourself (and even learn to love yourself) you’re ahead of the game. But it’s a lifetime’s work. Yes, work. Yes, a lifetime’s.

Now that the first fog of everything-the-press-got-wrong is lifting, and people are asking “why” I wonder about the time and the place, and if bullying from a decade ago, or longer, played into the creation of the evil and misery unleashed upon so many innocents, yesterday.

Everything matters. Everything ripples through time and our lives, like a pebble tossed to a pond, we cannot know what gets touched upon which shore.

“Each small meanness, each thoughtless expression of hatred, each envious and bitter act, regardless of how petty, can inspire others, and is therefore the seed that ultimately produces evil fruit, poisoning people whom you have never met and never will. All human lives are so profoundly and intricately entwined – those dead, those living, those generations yet to come – that the fate of all is the fate of each, and the hope of humanity rests in every heart and in every pair of hands.” — Dean Koontz

There are bullies all around us
— and of course, all over the internet. We’ve been teaching “tolerance” and “be nice” for a while, now. I don’t know if current efforts are more effective than they’ve been in the past. I hope so, but knowing the human heart, and how easily it turns toward the darkness, who knows?

Yesterday, (sadly and predictably) some Christians used social media and the horrific events of the day to make hay about prayer in schools: “this wouldn’t happen if our children were praying in school. God doesn’t go where he is not invited” Ugh. Aside from being terrible theology, such statements encourage the world to hate Christians and, more importantly, to misunderstand Christ, mercy and the life of faith.

God seeks invitation to the human heart (“behold, I stand at the door and knock”) because belief must be founded on an engagement of the free will — then it becomes the intimate relationship he seeks. I was bullied by children who were having daily classes in religion, so clearly the messages were not getting through, either because they had not reached the heart, or had been denied entrance.

Because it can’t be forced.

“Belief” cannot be compelled any more than “niceness” can be legislated, and simply going to church, or saying a group-prayer, or learning the verses or the rules will not do the thing. How many people do you know who go to church every week yet remain miserable bastards of tyranny and hate because their hearts have never been engaged, so they never have not evolved to love? How many preachers of “tolerance” and “be nice” have you encountered who deem who exactly is worthy of that tolerance and niceness and who deserves the back of the hand, derision and the shiv until they start acting right — behaving “correctly”.

The human heart doesn’t respond well to bullying. You can’t force it to be what you would have it be, no matter how much the pharisees of both sacred and secular opinion want to say otherwise.

I have been struck, these past 24 hours, by the people — earnest, hurting people — who go on to twitter pleading, “where was God in all of this.” But who, when told “God was here, in these first responders; God was here, in these heroic teachers,” simply scoff, “but why wasn’t he “there, in the classroom?”

Well, as Deacon Greg makes clear in his homily, God was there — in the middle of this terrible, great mystery. But what I realized is that the same people who sneer, “where was God” (and then reject the answer) want and expect the perfections of Paradise — no pain, no death, no sadness — but refuse to consider that we lost it, or how. They say believers live in a world of “myths,” but then demand the mythical world they deny.

They can’t have it both ways. Seeking Paradise means work, and yes, a lifetime of it, and it is interior work, not exterior. Every day it becomes clearer to me that we must each BE the change we wish to see in the world — fix ourselves and be gentle with others. It’s a waste of time to try to compel others to be what we think they should be.

The mystery of faith demands free engagement. Good citizenship demands it, too. But oddly enough, in both cases, for engagement to have positive effect requires making a conscious decision to love instead of hate, to work on one’s own soul instead of trying to correct someone else’s. Imagine a word of folks doing that.

Of course, that’s not a new idea. And it’s been expressed much more beautifully and directly.


Via Frank: “Prayer and even the smallest actions of love are powerful weapons in the battle against the evil still present in our world today.”

Calah Alexander: how not to respond.

Rebecca Hamilton quotes Corrie ten Boom.

The “horrible job”.

Brianna Heldt has humble reflections “Awful reactions.”

A Novena for healing

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About Elizabeth Scalia