It seems as though we are hearing of more and more shootings involving innocent groups of people being killed by a lone gunman, particularly at schools. This is a terrifying pattern that begs an answer to the question, “Why?”
It is likely that the answer is multifactorial, but there is one issue that we all may have control over. Nowadays, young adults are particularly taken with fame. Surveys show that for many young people, achieving fame is a life goal that is more important than building a great marriage, close friendships and career success.
Each time we dedicate extensive media attention and analysis to a shooter, we give them fame. While it may be helpful to understand what exactly is driving violent behavior (a psychiatric illness gone untreated? A disenfranchised adolescent gone unnoticed?), it would really be better to do so without glorifying the particular perpetrator. The focus can and should be on the victims, their families, the community and how they can heal. The murderer should rather be left aside, treated as an ill or depraved individual who does not deserve much thought, attention or fame.
There are a number of rage-filled people who feel that life has been unfair and someone else should pay. They want a certain kind of immortality and glorification, even in their death. We as a society have shown them a fairly surefire method of getting it. Violent video games, which many studies show correlate with later aggressive behavior, are easily available and are fertile training grounds for mass destruction.
Furthermore, many people fear reporting an individual who talks or writes of violence and death. In fact, the stigma and shame that still surrounds mental illness keeps us from calling to attention people who are clearly in the throes of a psychiatric disease. While we really cannot predict exactly who will turn their violent thoughts into action, we can be alert to anyone who is clearly preoccupied with violent thoughts and let a teacher, a health center or even the police know of this concern. At this juncture, however, it seems that one of the most important things we can do together, as a society, is to turn the focus away from the shooter, to take away the incentive of achieving fame — and turn attention back to the lives of the victims.
Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to TODAY. Her latest book is “Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie.” She is also the author of “Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts,” which helps parents deal with preschoolers’ questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, www.drgailsaltz.com.
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