Friday, May 30, 2014

Missed Opportunity

I just finished reading the most disturbing manifesto I have ever come across. I didn’t want to read it, but I am truly fascinated by human behavior, especially abnormal human behavior. Besides, reading this struck several chords within me and I know I’ll burst if I don’t write some of it down.

I’m sure many have heard of the horrific tragedy that took place in California just about a week ago. I’ve heard some people say that they would not read the manifesto because it would only give attention to the killer and lose focus of the victims. I agree that the victims stories should be shared, their lives remembered and mourned, but I think it’s foolish to simply ignore (or write-off) the thoughts that led to this culmination of events. I wanted to see the world through the eyes of this man so that I could perhaps catch a glimpse of what he was going through. And no, this does not mean that I am siding with the killer. If we want to have any hope of helping people who have mental illness, we have to take a look into their mindset. We might be able to see the same signs in people around us and not simply dismiss them as “just talk.”

When I first started reading, I quickly established that this man did not have an unfortunate upbringing; on the contrary, he lived a life of extravagance and indulgence. In his first decade of life, he had seen more of the world than I have in almost thirty years. Sadly, this was not enough for him and while I won’t go so far as to blame money for his downfall, it certainly contributed to his outlook on life and the world around him. I could also tell early on (aside from the intro and what I already knew before reading this) that there was something not quite right about him. He seemed to be quite bothered by things that most likely wouldn’t affect others quite as much. He seemed to have an egotistical view of the world at quite a young age. Again, I won’t blame everything on this, but you have to consider it a contributing factor.

The more I read into this, the more disturbing it became to me. I have to assume that while some of this manifesto is factual, there are other parts that were likely exaggerated and/or distorted by his perceptions; having said that, it also seems to me that his parents were not there for him in the capacity that he needed them to be. I did not grow up in a life of luxury and I don’t know what it means to have a great excess beyond what is needed. Don’t get me wrong; my parents were not poor and provided me (and my siblings) with everything we needed and a little of what we desired. However, I have never known what it is like to have everything handed to you by your parents, going on exotic vacations and living in expansive homes. I believe his parents tried to solve a lot of his “problems” with money and this couldn’t have helped his mindset. His values were quite skewed and reflected (in my opinion) one of the downfalls of our society. Throughout his writing, he declares many times how having more money would be the only way he would attain the attention from women that he was seeking. He frequently writes about shopping for Hugo Boss, Giorgio Armani and other name-brand clothing to attract the attention of females. His parents funded not only his college education (which he foolishly squandered; an opportunity that others only dream of), but his apartment, his car and extra spending money as well. He had saved enough money to blow it on lottery tickets and a small arsenal of weapons as well.

It was also quite apparent that he had a social anxiety of sorts. He didn’t form friendships well (mostly because of how he perceived others to be, which makes me question the accuracy of his memories) and he didn’t interact well socially either. He came off as awkward, isolated and (I would think) slightly scary as well. Not scary in an intimidating way; scary in a way that might make people uncomfortable. He was also defensive and although I do believe he was bullied by others (due to his social awkwardness), he contributed (in his own way) to people’s reactions of him. He looked down on others and I’d be willing to bet that this attitude came across quite clearly. According to his manifesto, there were some people he associated with that questioned his behavior and believed he might do something with devastating consequences. However, I am inclined to believe that most people just brushed him off as “the weird kid.”

What’s funny is that I actually wanted to feel sorry for him in the first parts of his writing. I was also an awkward kid; overweight, sensitive, quiet and smart. This has always made me a prime target for bullying. The difference is that I was much more social and eventually overcame my awkwardness and learned to appreciate the good qualities about myself. I wanted to be sympathetic towards his plight for friends and a girlfriend. As I read on, I became less sympathetic and more agitated and angry. I was angry that no one attempted to understand why he wasn’t fitting in and just kept moving him from one place to another. One would think that after multiple failed attempts, it might be best to look at HIS behavior as opposed to everyone around him. I won’t deny that the bullying likely contributed to his distorted views, but at some point, you have to work on the individual because the world is not going to stop for one person.

As I said previously, I felt this guy was seriously lacking in the things he valued in life. The most pressing issue in his life seemed to have been acquiring a girlfriend. This is quite a normal thing, but it was not normal the way he thought about this and how he went about (or didn’t go about) this. He never once tried to talk to a girl (outside of his childhood interactions). He expressed a desire to talk to girls, but never actually did. Then he turned his ire to the guys who were confident enough to talk to those same girls. He talks about girls denying him, but he never really put himself in a position to get rejected, so it was difficult to relate to his depression over this. I had the same issues with guys, except that I put myself out there. I talked to them, became their friend and faced rejection after rejection. It can be extremely depressing to watch other people your age with their boyfriends (or girlfriends, in his case) and question why you cannot have what they do. On that point, I completely understand where he is coming from and why he felt that way. However, this became an obsession for him and he lamented so much about this one thing that he completely missed out on some amazing experiences that some only dream to have. He blew off his education, he minimized the friendships he did have and he didn’t value much of anything, except power, status and money. This leads me to believe that he didn’t really care about having a girlfriend; he simply cared about the idea of having a girlfriend. He wanted another status symbol; an attractive blond to hang on his arm that he could show off to others. He cared a great deal about how other people perceived him and I don’t think he ever came out of the invisible audience stage of his teenage years. He talked a lot about how others saw him as a loser and while he was in high school, I might buy that. However, these perceptions followed him into college and adulthood and I honestly don’t believe that people probably gave him much thought as they were engrossed in their own lives.

I’m quite glad that I did not grow up in a wealthy household. I’m hesitant to judge this as I have not had the experience so it’s quite hard for me to assess what I would’ve had in this situation. Although, from what I have seen in my own world, children who come from wealthy families tend to be overindulged and place too much importance on material things. Seeing as though I was not afforded these luxuries in life, I placed my priorities on family, friends, love, respect, responsibility and other traditional values. That is not to say that I didn’t desire these same things (as many other people do), but their importance took a backseat to those other things (most times). And I’m not saying that kids who come from prestigious backgrounds are never taught these values, but material things do seem to take precedence over the others. And in this case, that seems to be pretty clear. I cannot be sure that his parents didn’t instill him with these things and I’m sure they hoped they were doing the right thing, but money doesn’t solve every problem nor do they make them go away.

I also noticed in his writings that he never mentioned what it was that he wanted from a woman, except for having a sexy, blond, white girlfriend that he wanted to lose his virginity to. It was quite obvious that he didn’t have any respect for women, their feelings or their attributes (except for the physical). I’m scared to think what might have happened if he had actually gotten a girlfriend. I can’t imagine that relationship lasting very long as this guy had some serious narcissistic ideals about himself and the world. I also can’t imagine what would’ve happened if he experienced some of the pitfalls of dating, particularly cheating. I doubt he would’ve handled this well and it would’ve likely only reaffirmed his stance on the female persona. I’m not sure what role his father played in his understanding of women, but I wish that he had sat down and talked to him before he hit puberty to explain things. There were many parts in his writing where I wondered if he was only interested in girls because he thought he should be. He didn’t seem ready to participate in this undertaking, at least until he hit puberty and began having sexual arousal towards women. He basically viewed women in a strictly carnal sense and he never truly appreciated the essence of a woman. Where these ideals came from is beyond me and I’m not sure I would have known how to approach it.

More than anything, I wish that people had taken him more seriously or paid attention to the obvious signs he was showing. He might not have been able to be forced into medication (or therapy) once he reached adulthood, but I believe it was already too late by then. Some of the signs showed up early on at a time when his parents could’ve made this decision for him. There was a lot of missed opportunity in this situation and it hurts my heart that someone didn’t reach out to help him before he committed such a heinous act.

What I have come away with from all of this is how I hope to direct my boys as they navigate their way through a complicated world with skewed values. First, I want to instill them with the same values that I found to be most important in life. I want them to know that although they will desire the things that society tells them they should have, those are not necessarily what is important in life. I also want them to know that while I believe they are amazing, intelligent and handsome boys who are special, there are billions of others who are being told the exact same thing. I want them to know that the world owes them nothing and if they want something in life, they will have to work hard and put themselves out there in order to attain/achieve it. The things they want will not simply be handed to them and they will likely face lots of rejection in their lifetime. I want them to grow from their failures and learn from their experiences. I want them to appreciate women and all they have to offer. I want them to know that women are people (just like them) with their own dreams, beliefs and ideals. I want them to have enough confidence to be able to go after what they want, but not so much that they believe they are entitled to it.

I hope that others take away from this the need to understand people who have mental illnesses and to watch for the signs. There is usually an underlying, nagging feeling we get when faced with people such as this man, yet we often brush it off as being paranoid or not wanting to get into someone else’s business. While I don’t believe we should take it upon ourselves to intrude in other people’s lives, I also believe we cannot ignore the signs of someone crying out for help. This guy often mused about other people understanding what he was going through and being able to see it, but for people who didn’t know him well, that would be practically impossible to see. He would just come off as shy or aloof. He thought a lot of himself and expected the world to come to him. When it didn’t, he hated the world and his place in it. There were certainly a lot of contributing factors to his violent outbursts, but the real culprit was his own mind and the way he perceived the world and the people in it. I’m not sure if this could have been prevented, but I hope it encourages people to speak up when they feel that someone might be mentally disturbed instead of just brushing it off.