I don’t know the motivations of the Virginia Tech shooter. I think it is a tragedy. I mourn with those that have lost friends and family and loved ones and offer my prayers.
It sounds like the shooter was disturbed, depressed, maybe shy and socially inept, bullied, angry and alienated.
I have been talking with folks this week about this horrible event. I heard one guy say that back when he was in school that they settled problems with fist fights-y’know, met after school and settle things like…well, like kids. I mentioned that I was never a popular kid in high school, not completely at the bottom of the social chain, but definitely deemed a social outcast along with the rest of my few friends. There were others that were ridiculed and made to feel much worse than me, but I was still way below the crowd of accepted folks. I got made fun of mostly because of my religious beliefs and the stands that I took on issues. I was a Jesus freak. I am still proud of that. I could have done many things differently, but I was radical about my faith.
I will quickly add that I had a support group outside of high school-namely my church youth group. I was pretty popular there. I will also quickly add that my college experiences were completely different than my high school experiences. I was cool within the crowd of friends that I had on campus. That crowd did not consist of the most popular folks on campus. My point is that I had awesome experiences outside of high school.
High school sucked. What kept me going in high school was a hope that I would fit in outside of high school. That I would be safe in my youth group and fit in at the religious college I planned to attend. So I kinda tolerated H.S. with the expectation that in the next life-experience I would be re-born into a different social class. And indeed that was the case.
I can relate to the feelings of social outcasts that release their rage on classmates. Like the kids in Columbine high school. And just maybe like the Virgina Tech shooter. I dreaded going to another day of H.S. classes. I hung out with the geeks and nerds and the socially inept. At times I hated the popular kids, the jocks and the rich kids and the popular kids-who were at the top of the food chain for no apparent reason. I hated it when the powerful picked on the weak. When a nerd was made fun of or physically harassed. There were times when I wanted justice. There were times that I would have loved to settle things after school. But I was the underdog. I was the weak. I could have never won in a fist fight! I could never had beaten anyone up! I could not have settled things on my own.
Things sure would have been different if I had something to make me strong. If I had just had something to put me on top. Something to strike fear in those bullies. If I had had something like…a gun.
Now don’t get me wrong, one of the big differences between the “kids of today” and the “kids back in my day” (a mere 15 years ago) is that I never dreamed of getting a gun. I would never had known where to go to get a gun! But I also had outs…I had a few close friends. I had a place to go to fit in. I had hope in a future. I never thought of a gun as an option!
But those options exist today. Today the nerds fight back. Today those that got pushed around push back. Today those that got laughed at in the past have the last laugh. And really, no one is innocent in high school. There were those that were your friends and those that bullied you and made fun of you. And the rest? They were the ones that sat back and did nothing. they never came to anyone’s defense. They never stood up and yelled STOP. They were just as guilty. They watched it all happen. They were just as guilty.
Part of me likes that. Part of me smiles at that revenge. Part of me agrees with that vigilante justice. Revenge of the Nerds for the 21st century-nerds with guns! Sounds like a video game. Kill the bullies! Part of me identifies with these guys. Part of me sees a hero.
Part of me. The part that I don’t like. The part of me that I left behind in high school. Or that went and grew up. Or that made it out OK.
The truth is that there are bullies and there are those that get bullied and then there are innocent folks just trying not to be one or the other. They are avoiding the bullies and avoiding the bullied.
My wife is reading a book right now by Jodi Picoult, Nineteen Minutes. It is the story of a high school nerd who gets a gun and carries out his form of justice. It is a Columbine story from the shooter’s perspective. His brother made fun of him from day one; bullied him something fierce. Others join in. Not many take the time to get to know who he really is. You know the rest, maybe not all of the specifics. But the end. He snaps and kills.
As I watch the news and hear the reports people keep wanting to know why. The video that the gunman sent to NBC is being released and aired all over the airwaves. The shooter is getting his 15 minutes of fame the critics say. Don’t make him into a celebrity. But we are starting to find out why. The reporters look at the pics and say that he looked like he was trying to act like someone from the Matrix. Or trying to be a villain. That he must have been calculating and cold to mail a package inbetween shootings. He’s crazy, he’s vicious, he’s a mass murderer, he’s bad. They use terms like “quiet” and “loner”.
That is what the popular and “normal” people want to believe. It helps them feel better. They want to think that anyone who snaps like this is automatically evil. In all fairness he seems to have had mental issues. But maybe he is a product of his environment. Maybe he was pushed and pushed. Maybe terms like “quiet” and “loner” really mean “ignored” and “alienated”.
It is the popular kids and the bullies-not the bullied nerds-that make Napoleon Dynamite and think that it is funny. I watch the movie and am reminded all over again that high school really, really sucked. And don’t try to tell me that he is a hero at the end! No, a week later he is still the unpopular nerdy kid and everything goes back to the same old ways.
I want to stand up and yell! WHAT DID YOU EXPECT? YOU MADE THIS GUY! DUH! YOU DID THIS! You discarded him! You wrote him off! You pushed him around. You bullied him. Or worse, you ignored him altogether.
Only now is someone taking the time to get to know Cho. That’s his name, Cho Seung-Hui. No one cared what his name was before, but they know it now. Maybe not Cho, maybe his life was different. But nerds like him. The Columbine kids. At some point they are gonna fight back! They are gonna seek their revenge. And in their mind it is justice! It is righting the wrongs! It is standing up! It is the after school confrontation with a chance to actually come away from the fight as the winner and not the beaten.
Take away the hope and what do you get? Take away the view of a future and what remains? Take away the possibility of someone ever loving you and what are you left with? Emptiness. Despair. No happy ending. Maybe that is what drove Cho mad. I don’t know. We may never know.
I do know that his rage was misguided. That innocent people died-good people. And yet, for some bullied people a light bulb is going on.
I got my revenge. It is called a Wife and Kids. It is called a Real Life. But I could see that. I could imagine it. I was not short-sighted. I had hope.
What do nerds see? Erkel from Family Matters. Screech from Saved by the Bell. Cliff from Cheers. Millhouse and The Comic Book guy from the The Simpson’s. Maybe I am dating myself… Carl from Jimmy Neutron, the Emo Kids from Malcolm in the Middle. Kramer from Seinfeld. They see a future without a girlfriend. They see loneliness as a kid and it getting worse as an adult. A loser job. A loser life. I am not blaming TV! These shows merely mirror life.
So as I pray for the mourning I also pray for the ones that are thinking and a smile is starting to form on their lips. The ones that play their video games just a little differently-imagining the faces that they kill are ones that they know all too well, their bullies. I pray for the ones that are getting ideas. I pray for the ones that might be forming plans in the back of their heads. I pray for the ones who see a hero. It isn’t too late for them, their reality can be changed and improved.
I pray for the bullies. I pray for the bullied and I pray for the ones in the middle. I pray for healing. I pray for justice. I pray for change. I pray for understanding. I pray for hope. I pray for peace.