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Adam Lanza and All of Us


The other strand of sense-making I got from Gilligan is that he believes every act of violence is an attempt to create justice, to right a wrong. When I first read this line, a puzzle was finally solved for me. It's all about the inner reality, not about any kind of objective reality. While others may not see the "injustice" that is being addressed, the tortured soul of the one who commits violence knows.

It's hard to salvage information from what I read about Adam Lanza, because the general tenor of what I read is already tainted by the assumption of evil, and therefore his own experience, what might have actually been going on inside of him over the years and as he set out to do his act, doesn't feature. So I am left to guess, to imagine. I have no doubt that the precursor to violence is excruciating pain and discomfort, not a clear, calm resolve to inflict harm; enough inner turmoil that our natural human care gets turned off.

What might have happened to Adam Lanza early on in his life, maybe around the time of moving to the school where he executed his deadly actions, that created such a gulf of pain and anguish? I am thinking of that age, because Alice Miller points out that the specific acts of killers often give us direct clues to what happened to them. I doubt we will ever know. I still find asking the questions worthwhile, because they point me in the direction of prevention and of healing. At the very least, they allow me to mourn and grieve without turning anyone into a monster. We are all human, and something terrible happens to some of us. What can we do to have less, or none, of this horror happen?

Mental Illness or Social Problem

I then read an article written by Liza Long, the mother of a 13-year old who exhibits intensely violent behavior, and many of the comments written in response. Liza maintains that the issue is mental illness, not gun control. I am actively unsure, even as I attempt to maintain a most humble stance. Along with Gilligan, I see violence, and the specific problem of mass shootings, as a form of horrific and tragic feedback to society that we are not providing the conditions that allow people to thrive. I am troubled by what I see as medicalizing and individualizing a social problem, because I want the issue to be addressed on a societal level, and I worry that the individual lens will distract us away from the issues I want us to focus on.

I have a personal dear friend whose son struggles with similar issues to what Liza Long describes. My friend has had numerous wrenching, poignant conversations with her son, and has learned a lot about the level of his suffering. Like Long's son, my friend's son experiences sensory overload. He finds just being alive in the world so challenging. She has two other children who have none of these issues. Of course there is individual variation, and not everyone, no matter what has happened to them, will respond violently. My friend struggles to understand, to connect deeply with her son, to find ways of responding, reaching, supporting his body and soul without labeling him, without resorting to drugs or a system that is in any event broken. She uses the experience to learn, to help everyone grow, to become humble. I want to keep asking: what is happening on a larger scale that is affecting more and more children? What are we doing, collectively, that is resulting in so many children having so little capacity to manage their inner and outer lives? How can we take societal responsibility for the conditions we have created that affect many more than those who engage in overt violence?