When I read more about the perpetrator of the massacre at Virginia Tech, I thought the same things I remember thinking about Columbine. And I wasn’t the only one with those thoughts. After Columbine, I was corresponding with one of my best friends from college, and she said the descriptions of those two guys really reminded her of me.
So the question then, as now, is, why am I a reasonably productive member of society while other people like me kill dozens of people?Bullying.I certainly got bullied a lot growing up. In the sixth grade, I had no consistent friends, and by seventh grade, I had no friends at all. People would talk to me when I knew something they needed to know, but aside from that, they threw stuff at me, or tried to break my leg. We moved to St. Louis the year after that, and I counted down every single day.
I got bullied in St. Louis too, but at least I had some friends.
What happened? For one thing, by the time I was 18, I knew none of the people who gave me trouble, including the kid in Farmington who made my life pure hell, managed to finish high school. Now, I know some very intelligent people who didn’t finish high school either, and I mean no disrespect to them, but I did take a lot of satisfaction in accomplishing something they didn’t. Not having to work all that hard at it gave me even more satisfaction.
I guess the difference for me was that I had a number of adults tell me from a very young age that I could accomplish a lot. So I didn’t just believe I’d accomplish more than those (insert family-inappropriate noun, plural, here). I knew I would. And that was enough to satisfy me. There wasn’t any need to spill blood.
It’s been years since I heard anything about any of them. The last I heard, the crowning achievement for one of them was holding down a job at a sandwich shop. Astounding. Probably my tax dollars are helping to support the others, if they’re even still alive.
One thing I learned as an adult is that there’s no need to take vengeance on people like them. They’ll do far, far worse things to themselves than the worst thing you could do to them.
Depression and mood swings. In college, I’m not sure that I was known for much of anything else. I was never diagnosed with anything, and I’ve had my moments in the years since, but my struggles have never prevented me from doing the things I need to do in order to survive.
The difference? Mainly, I got help when I needed it. A counselor’s outside perspective is a wonderful thing. And at the end of a particularly nasty breakup right after college, I attended an experimental group therapy that really helped. In a nutshell, it used secret society tactics to break you down and get you to admit who you really are underneath all that stuff the world piles on you. The theory is that if you get rid of all those masks and be authentic, you’ll function better, and people in general will like you a lot better too.
Also, I really think proper nutrition helps. I think things are worse now than they were 20 years ago, which frightens me, but we eat a lot worse now than we did even 20 years ago. Hydrogenated oils and high-fructose corn syrup are evil, evil things, and it’s amazing what a difference eliminating those from your diet will do. There are lots of good books out there, and used copies are cheap. Familiarize yourself with the writings of Dr. Mark Hyman, for starters. Used copies of his books sell for less than $5 online now. They’d be a bargain at $100.
Trouble with women. I could so be a poster child for this one. If you’re reading this because you’re frustrated with the world partly because you have difficulty starting relationships with women, or all your relationships go south really fast, I have two bits of news for you. First, you’re not alone–I’ve never heard a story from anyone else that I couldn’t top. I was the worst of the worst. Second, it doesn’t last forever. I’m married now, and happily at that.
There’s a lot to say about women, but there are probably four things that matter.
1. Think long-term. It’s morbid, but the answer to this question is very important. If something happened to you in 10 years, do you trust this woman to raise your kids right, and does she have the ability to see to it that all their needs are met? I’ve only met one woman, ever, who wasn’t related to me who passed this test. I married her.
2. Stay grounded. Often I found myself imagining the things I didn’t know about a woman I was chasing. It was easy to get caught up in that and not realize that it was that image I was infatuated with, not the person. Don’t invest a thing emotionally in someone until you know an awful, awful lot about her. Otherwise, she’ll just disappoint you.
3. Be nice. Most guys aren’t nice to women. I don’t think I met any women who really valued that until I was pushing 30, but being nice to women will eventually pay off, so it pays to start this minute. You’ll need practice.
4. Mostly, women want to talk. I think this is the big secret that I didn’t learn until I was in my late 20s. Be pleasant to talk to, and let them do most of the talking. You’ll know when they want you to talk (they’ll tell you). Listen at least twice as much as you talk. Getting them to talk is the hard part, but there’s a book about that. Go to the library and at least thumb through How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. It’s a classic. It’s not specifically about women but it will help in that and every other relationship. I wish I’d known about that book when I was, say, 14.
Right and wrong. I’ve always had a very strong sense of right and wrong, and I get infuriated when I see people do wrong. That cost me my job a couple of years ago, but it could be worse. There could be blood on my hands.
I’m 32, which isn’t terribly old but it’s given me plenty of time to watch people ruin their lives. I’ve certainly wanted revenge plenty of times, but the people I’ve wanted revenge on always manage to do worse things to themselves than anything I could have ever done to them. Remember, stupidity is a talent, and I’m sure the stupid people in your life have lots of it, just like the stupid people in mine. Just stay away from them and let them ruin their lives. They don’t need your help.
Jealousy of wealth. I hate seeing people flash wealth too, especially when that wealth was either handed to them, or acquired dishonestly.
All I can say is that for all the rhetoric that’s out there, the United States does still have lots of opportunity for people. There’s a very simple formula for getting rich, if you want to know it. Go to the library and pick up The Millionaire Next Door. If you can hold down a job, you can get wealthy and stay wealthy in this country.
The tougher half of the equation is finding something that you enjoy doing. Find something that interests you and doesn’t seem like work, then find a career that fits that. Talk it over with your guidance counselors. That’s their job.
Planning. In both cases, the perpetrators have been very good, or at least meticulous, planners. Planners have a huge advantage over the rest of the population, because they can imagine something, and they can figure out how to make that happen. I dated a girl once who had one dream in life–to join the Air Force–and due to health problems she couldn’t get in. She had no direction and no idea what she wanted to do with her life after that. It’s pretty sad.
So if you can plan something and it sounds reasonable in your mind, you might as well make it something positive. It’s cliche, I know, but with enough patience and determination, it’s possible to turn almost anything you can envision into reality.
I published a book before my 25th birthday. It was something I’d wanted to do since I was in second grade. Of course when I was in second grade I had no idea what I wanted to write about. But as I got older I learned the things that I needed to do to make it happen. Along the way I wrote a few things that I thought might be it and turned out not to be, but I didn’t let myself get discouraged. When the right opportunity presented itself soon after I turned 24, I recognized it and I took it. About a year later, I walked into a large bookstore and saw a book with my name on the spine sitting on the shelf.
If that sounds like something you would like, you can do it too. Or maybe you’d rather do something else, like design a practical electric car. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you enjoy doing it and it helps someone.
This isn’t terribly organized or coherent, and it’s getting really late. But if this helps someone, then it was worth it.
You know ? I’ve been reading Dave’s blog for sometime, tho’ I don’t comment much. (I even, I think, started the "most popular" thread on those cheap laptops from Sotec 😉 This was a very personal post, and I feel sort of, I dunno, privileged that Dave chose to write it for us. And it astounds me that he could even contemplate being anywhere near this category.
But Dave, there are a lot more differences between you and that guy in Virginia than you might think. I’ve been bullied as a kid, felt leftout & weird as a teenager, and had problems figuring out women (I’m married, but still working on that last one 😉 But there’s got to be something deeper that drives someone to murder – otherwise they’d be locking up every introspective geek in the country*. So give yourself some extra credit, you deserve it 🙂
*Note: I’ll even admit that this was one of the first thoughts I had once we got some bare details of the situation. "Oh no, they’re gonna start blaming ‘loners’ again – like every introspective, abused geek out there is a vial of nitroglycerine waiting to be pushed off the table." It’s a shallow bit of "insight" that’s easy for media types to trot out.
Problem is that it’s a bunch of fallacious nonsense.
I don’t believe either one of you is a paranoid schizophrenic, so neither one of you have to worry about becoming a Seung-Hui Cho.
Even if you were ill, only an infinitesimal small percentage of the mentally ill kill.
If your friends think you are capable of this, change friends.