Shortly after the Sandy Hook Elementary School rampage, I looked into a photograph of the face of Adam Lanza, just as I studied the faces of James Holmes, the Aurora shooter, and Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, the Columbine killers.
I assumed that these rampage killers shared much with me — they had laughed, loved and felt joy. They also came to know suffering. And, here is the great distinction between us.
I've come to see that their suffering was so great, so relentless and so irremediable that each created a narrative which justified his rampage. I see rampage violence as a result of "narrative failure," in which violence erupts from the perpetrator's defective story about himself. I believe the story arises from an inability to rationalize suffering, which may have arisen from a catastrophic event, childhood abuse or neglect, bullying or poverty. The perpetrator doesn't have to be "crazy."
In the perpetrator's story, the violence may serve as retribution against those who caused the suffering. He may see the violence not only as appropriate, but even heroic. The violence, ending in suicide, provides the ultimate release.
I consider their failed stories to be our collective failure. I accept my responsibility to help end such alienation. I won't simply hand this problem over to lawmakers. I am committed to relieving this suffering wherever I find it. I look into the face of suffering, without averting my eyes. My only competency is my ability to make human connection.
I take baby steps. When I see an alienated child, I simply make eye contact. I add a nod, a smile, or just "soft eyes." If I see something potentially alarming, I seek help. It may not sound like much, but it is a start.
What might have happened if someone had effectively connected with an isolated and alienated Adam Lanza earlier in his life?
With a Perspective, I'm Tim Tosta.
Tim Tosta is a land use lawyer in San Francisco.