I felt compelled to write this I hope you find it useful in thinking about this matter:
AFFECT AND ADOLESENCE
ON THE TRAGEDY IN LITTLETON.
I am a family doc and I am supposed to know everything and so if someone asks me about Littleton I am supposed to have an answer. Several years ago I would not have had a very good one. I do now. It is based on the simplest of concepts. It is not gun control, it is not more security, it is not mostly everything that is being said over and over again. It is about not hurting people. But we must start at the right place. It is about not hurting our children so they do not hurt others. A man who, I believe, will become known as the Einstein of human psychology hit upon the idea of simple hurt and how we respond to it. A man I can now count as a friend and mentor, Donald Nathanson, M.D of Philadelphia was a student of Tomkins. He added to this idea of hurt by classifying our reactions to this hurt in what he calls a compass. To paraphrase "a compass of hurt." When we are hurt we either withdraw, attack others , attack ourselves or avoid. These four ways are in the main only cover up the hurt, they do not address it. In a letter to the President he explained these for reactions to hurt as:
"1) we can withdraw from the eyes of those before whom we have been exposed; 2) when this withdrawal causes too painful a sense of isolation and abandonment, we can demean ourselves in order to be made safe by otherwise dangerous people; 3) when the feeling of shame is too painful to bear, we can draw attention to something about which we are proud or use drugs like alcohol, cocaine, and the amphetamines to wash the feeling away; and 4) if there is nothing we can do by our own hand or mind to raise our self esteem, we tend to reduce the self-esteem of anybody available. "
There is a fifth way and that is to examine the hurt. To come and appreciated it and its roots. To deal with it, to take the hit and then ask the question why did this or that hurt me so much that I would attack another or berate myself or use drugs? The hurt we feel can come from an idea, a thought, a memory. The hurt comes because we are interested in life and things get in our way. We are interested in having loving parents, but don't. We are interested in having loving siblings but don't. We are interested in having loving classmates but don’t. The teenage years are some of the most vulnerable to feeling hurt. It is that time of great definition in our life. What is important is, I firmly believe, not the influence of radio, TV or movies but the influence of those people that we have great interest in. If we are attentive parents, teachers and friends we will not produce people that will take murderers as our example. To be sure this is not a simple journey and I wish not to hurt the parents of these two boys. I know nothing of them. I do not accuse, as we, who expound this theory, also believe that unfortunately life can be and is quite capricious. Single instances of intense emotion seem to be able to dramatically effect ones actions and outlook on life. Thus we know that a damaged child can be very easily damaged. The trick is not to point the finger at the parents but at all of us; parents, teachers, doctors, friends and neighbors need to care about each others hurt. We must ask and make it clear that it is OK to show emotion. It seems, in the main, that the "trench coat Mafia," was seen simply as esoteric. We do not want to expunge individuality but we believe that it is imperative to become sensitive to such isolation at this age, or truly at any age, and ask ourselves are they withdrawing due to hurt and might that withdrawal revert, at anytime, to attack? To quote Nathanson again, attack comes when "nothing we can do by our own hand or mind to raise our self esteem". Or are they withdrawing due to an intense interest in something constructive? If you listen to many of the comments of the students we hear that these kids where outcasts, we hear them referred to as "geeks" and such. We cannot simply brush such comments off as "that is the way kids are". No, kids do not have to be this way. What happened, in part, in Littleton was that a viscous cycle of alienation was set up. Those on the outside ended up more and more on the outside and the burden became too great. This is not to excuse, this is not liberal or conservative. This is the way we are, the way we have always been and the way we will always be unless we understand that reason is no match for hurt and hurt no match for love and interest in others but only if it starts early and is consistent.