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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss


Most of us, I suspect, have been trying to make sense of the increasing spasms of violence that have occurred in our country. The public dialog on this topic seems to devolve into debates on the pros and cons of gun ownership, the proliferation of video games (at least the so-called first person shooter games), the rise of incendiary rhetoric on the part of national and local leadership, a resurgence of a particular kind of nationalism, and the existence or lack thereof of strong religious upbringing.

At the risk of getting caught in that verbal crossfire, I find none of the causes offered up by proponents persuasive. To be clear that is not to say I lack opinions on the subjects at hand, but I do not believe that they truly address the causal impulse adequately. In much the same way I reject the overly simplistic issue of mental health—though it does come a little closer to what I submit is at the root of a great deal of human hatred and sociopathic behavior. You may be surprised by my thesis, but I believe that if you examine the manifestos, background and history of those who have engaged in mass murder you will see an anger that is born out of a fundamental human emotion, rejection.

Humans are social creatures. From birth we are oriented and normalized to belong-to a family, a neighborhood, a community, a state, a country and a hundred other formal and informal tangles of relationship. Some say we are hard wired for relationship. By instinct and experience we seek to be a member, to be included, to feel bonded to and with others.

Sometimes this bonding takes a negative turn. Children and young adults can be taught to reject those who are not of their clan, race, religion, or belief and to de-humanize them—in short to treat them as unworthy of even the most basic regard, to reject them as members of the human race. This is one of the contributing factors we can all observe—hatred for someone based on their differences. But the catalyst is even more sinister. Add to this pre-disposition personal rejection. A parent that does not love their child, an employer or workplace environment that is belittling, corrosive or outright hostile. These are just two of the rejections to which I refer. Rejection in any relationship, especially those that are very personal is painful.

Learning to cope with rejection is a hard lesson. For those whose sense of self and self-worth is strong, overcoming rejection is a good deal easier but everyone feels its sting at some point. Those whose early life is characterized by resentment, anger, a familial, gender-based, or racially centered sense of injustice and rejection, are primed for failure. Their coping mechanisms are undeveloped, their sense of self and self as a member of the larger community of human beings provides no balm. Anger, hatred, resentment grows and festers unabated.

Is this a mental health issue—yes but perhaps not in any sense that might be systemically identified and treated, though we all have a responsibility and the tools to help address it. We can live our lives with compassion, especially for those who are wounded. We can avoid rejection, embrace acceptance and treat everyone we meet, especially those whose views we do not share, with decency and patience. We can make an effort to understand their pain—even when it is expressed as anger or hatred. This is extremely hard to do, I know. It is so much easier to hate back, to reject feelings and ideas that are inimical to what we believe. But all that does is perpetuate the very thing we knows leads to destructive behavior. It’s our choice.

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