Monday, April 23, 2007

For Lack of a Close Friend or Two

In examining the many variables that led Cho Seung-Hui to commit unspeakable horror at Virginia Tech, pundits, "experts" and the public alike seem to be focusing on a variety of formal criteria. Many point to perceived failures by the mental health system, campus security, the university's administration or the laws pertaining to the purchase of firearms.

All of these topics should be examined critically and I certainly don't begrudge anyone for shining a light on the shortcomings of these various systems. Still, the one thing that I've seen next to no discussion on is the most elementary variable of all -- Cho appeared to be friendless.

Each of us needs to feel valued, loved and respected by others. We aren't isolated islands merely drifting through the sea of life. We need social relationships to survive and flourish. When these types of interdependencies are lacking, our world view becomes skewed by loneliness and rejection. Any person who feels scorned and alone will react to the world far differently than others who have adequate support systems.

For me, this appears to be the theme of the profile of the various individuals who, in the past decade, have committed acts of unspeakable horror. The two young men of Columbine were treated like social outcasts. Kip Kinkle of the Springfield (OR) shooting was viewed by his peers in the same manner.

This very same profile has again raised its head with Cho Seung-Hiu.

What if any of these young men had been befriended by someone with an adequate social system? What if the majority of their classmates had refrained from laughing at them in class or ridiculing them in front of others? Could these types of random acts of kindness have averted their infamous claims to fame?

We will never know the answer to that question. But we can each change our behavior now to help avert future horrors.

We need to remember that -- no matter how weird or strange any of us can be -- we all possess the same kinds of feelings and emotions. None of us wants to be rejected by the world around us. We all crave acceptance in some form. If we are more willing to accept others, then they will feel less isolated and may well be less prone to take out all their frustrations on random individuals.

Finally, I realize that some people might argue that people like Cho Seung-Hui aren't looking to make friends. To that I say, poppycock! Everybody needs and wants friends (even if they tell themselves they don't).

Being a friend to someone who doesn't make friends easily or who acts as if they don't need friends is a tough task, but, if we are patient and persevere, it can be a life-alerting experience, both for the other person and yourself.

What if one or more of Cho's classmates had broken through his self-erected wall to befriend this troubled young man? It's a question that should haunt all of us.


  1. I think Cho might have suffered from the same issues I suffer from lately, only difference is that I do have friends and will do anything to keep those relationships going. I've written about it, questioned myself, so yes, friendship is one of the essential basics we humans need. It might have been an important proposition to this whole situation, but I'm still convinced a lot of other things need to be involved before someone commits this kind of act.

    Friendship, or rather love from someone else takes away a very big hole out of our lives, no doubt. But can friendship also prevent others from taking wrong turns in their lives? I've seen otherwise ...

  2. Can offering friendship to another guarantee that others will not take wrong turns? Of course not. But the question is: Can it? And the answer is yes, sometimes it does.

    In Cho's case, we will never know if it might have made a difference.


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