Empaths, we’ve got a situation. After these most recent mass murders, people are focusing their fears onto mentally ill people and autistic people. This is not only cruel, but it’s counterproductive, since autistic people and people who are mentally ill are far more likely to be victims of crime than to commit crimes.
Since the Sandy Hook murders occurred, I’ve been very quiet, reading academic books on murder and violence, selectively accessing media, and watching people in my Facebook feeds reacting, sharing information, raging, grieving, posting, counter-posting, and theorizing wildly about the young man named Adam Lanza who killed his mother and then went to a local school to kill 26 people and then himself.
The opinions are still exploding, people are grandstanding, fake messages from Morgan Freeman are circulating, and feverish, ungrounded theorizing about mental illness, autism, survivalism, gun safety, and school safety are being argued about ferociously. All of this is understandable, but ultimately not helpful if it increases panic, reduces reasoned and empathic thinking, and encourages more hatred and stigma against people who are different.
I cannot pretend to know what Adam Lanza and his mother felt, or believed, or hoped to do with all of the guns they lived with. No one can unless they knew the family intimately. However, I do know and work with many people who are mentally ill, and I’m not afraid of any of them; I’m more afraid for them after this most recent round of scapegoating.
I also know and work with many autistic people, and I’m not afraid of any of them either — in fact, I’m far more afraid for them now that they’re being scapegoated so openly.
When acts of violence occur, you will see wondrous courage and the best of human nature arise — but you will also see the very worst as well. We’ve seen this everywhere, as people focus their ungrounded, uninformed panic and hatred onto autistic people and the mentally ill — often imagining that the two conditions are similar. They’re not at all, and neither one is predictive of violence like this.
If we focus in ignorance on people who are different — as if violence is a foreign thing that no one could ever predict — we’ll remain uninformed and unsafe. We’ll reduce our capacity for empathy, and as a direct result, we’ll make the world less safe for everyone.
But if we focus on differences with empathy and awareness, we’ll make the world kinder, more connected, and safer.
Gun-based multiple murders are much more connected to substance abuse and the nearly unregulated availability of guns than they are to anything else. The answer to this tragedy isn’t to further stigmatize minorities; the answer is to focus with clear-eyed empathy and intelligence on the actual problems instead of on the most convenient scapegoats.
Thank you for bringing your empathy and your clear-eyed intelligence to a waiting world.