I was surfing the web late last week when I learned about the horrific shooting in Aurora, Colorado. A man with 3 guns and body armor shot 12 people dead and wounded another 70 during a showing of the latest Batman movie. In addition, the suspect booby trapped his apartment with multiple explosives, clearly indicating that he planned this evil act for months in advance and intended to inflict as much destruction as possible even after his immediate arrest at the movie theater. This is regarded as one of the worst mass shootings in recent United States history. You might also recall that a similar event occurred at Columbine High School, Colorado, when 2 students opened fire on their schoolmates and teachers in 1999.
These types of events are tragic and have no place in civilized society. No matter what kind of protections we offer to our fellow citizens, we will never be able to stop a deranged mind from wreaking havoc on the lives of others, simply because it is near impossible to find these individuals before they strike. I’ll leave the gun control debate out of it, since that is a hot button issue that inevitably comes to the surface when these types of things occur.
Immediately, people start to look for reason in an unreasonable situation. Many rightly point out that the perpetrator, 24 year old James Holmes, is most likely mentally ill. He was described as a bright student studying neuroscience but a bit socially disconnected from the world around him. Some have speculated that paranoid-schizophrenia may have just manifested in his mind, causing him to lose touch with reality and snap. This particular mental illness tends to rear its head in late adolescence and early adulthood, so it’s an age appropriate hypothesis that might explain his actions. There also could be a number of other, yet-to-be-known exacerbating factors, including a history of abuse and neglect, other mental illnesses, substance abuse, or relationship problems. All of these may have combined to create a perfect storm of psychosis that led to the mind boggling events that took place last week.
I won’t speculate any further about the cause of his actions because I don’t know all the facts and lack the qualifications to make suppositions about his mental health situation. I would, however, like to comment on one aspect of his background that I believe is being blown way out of proportion: his apparent lack of social connections and loner disposition.
First off, there are millions of people who consider themselves loners, have only a handful of friends, or who don’t like to socialize with other people who pose NO THREAT to society. These people – myself included – are simply introverted and prefer time to ourselves. Instead of constantly being surrounded by people, we prefer to mind our own business and go about our day as we see fit. We might not even go out on Saturday night, but instead prefer to watch TV or relax after a stressful week. Quiet people aren’t dangerous people. There are plenty of examples of social butterflies who ended up becoming criminals despite the fact they had 101 friends. Before we shame a subset of our population by association, let’s at least get our facts straight and think reasonably about the situation and use common sense.
Is being socially disconnected indicative of mental illness? Yes, it CAN be, but is clearly not always the case. Using myself as an example, I will agree that my BPD isolates me socially and has caused a multitude of relationship problems. When I was being diagnosed, my doctors carefully noted that I expressed problems connecting with people and felt very lonely. While they all agreed this was a symptom of my BPD, they also stated that my natural personality is inclined to be more reserved and introverted. Some of the stress I was feeling about my sociability problems were really just inner conflict with my own identity. After learning that it’s OK to want time to myself and have only a few friends, I came to better accept myself and respect my own feelings. Shoving myself into social situations for the sole purpose of being social was not the answer to my problems: I needed to learn more about how to live within my personality and socialize accordingly.
So is that weird guy at the grocery store every Tuesday at 6:00 AM wandering around by himself likely the next mass murderer? No, not at all. In 99.999% of cases, he’s just a shy person taking care of one of life’s chores when the store isn’t jam-packed with people. Personally, I like shopping in smaller, quieter stores because it is less stressful and more carefree. Who wants to lineup 5 people deep for deli slice cheese at 11:00 AM on a Saturday morning when you can come to the store late Wednesday night and get served instantly? Sometimes we introverts have it right and that’s nothing for anyone to be ashamed about. You don’t need 5 friends to go grocery shopping.
To be sure, I’m not stating that being anti-social is better than being highly social. It really comes down to the individual and what he or she prefers.
Please, however, don’t lump the quiet folks together with all the truly crazy people in the world. Just because I like to eat dinner by myself doesn’t mean I’m going to commit the next heinous act of mass murder. It’s high time people begin accepting each other’s differences instead of using them to single others out. Pointing out everyone who is “different” is akin to the bullying routines of 12 year old kids in middle school. That sh*t got old fast 20 years ago, and I’m not about to stand for it now.