Authored by Jamie Hall, APC
In a world filled with so much hate, so much greed, and an unfathomable amount of acts of unkindness, even the most prolific and inspired people may find it difficult to find happiness or the good in man-kind.
It’s the day after the Las Vegas shootings. Tonight is a rare treat for me. I got off work early, did some grocery shopping and came home to an empty house. My husband is at a sporting event, and I am left to my frozen pizza and the chance to catch up on some less-than-stimulating television. But instead, also unlike my usual ritual, I find myself scrolling through news stories. I don’t often choose to corrupt my mind with the negativity of the news. I prefer to seek out videos of panda bears rolling down slides or read up on the latest NASA endeavor. But tonight, I can’t seem to help myself. Fox News, CNN, CSPAN, ABC, The Guardian…Each news outlet has it’s own update, it’s own “spin”, it’s own speculation on the topic. I keep searching. But for what? I take to Facebook and I come across posts criticizing those who continue to repeat his name, claiming it memorializes the shooter [scroll] … Those who are demanding more (or less) gun restrictions, and insisting that guns are (or aren’t) the issue … [scroll] Some blame President Trump, [scroll] others blame ISIS… Opinion after opinion, most of which only seem to perpetuate the problem. And yet, I keep on scrolling. This time I land on a post with multiple pictures of a young man. The person posting isn’t an incredibly close friend, but someone I find myself kind of wishing she were so that I could hug her and offer her support. I read her post. Over and over, I read it. I feel her sadness. I stare at the pictures, and begin to memorize the face in each of them. She lost this person yesterday. And I hurt for her and for him and for his family. And I hurt for her hometown of Las Vegas.
It’s then that I realize; two degrees of separation is what connects myself to him. Two degrees of separation is what connects myself to a victim of a faceless man with a 32nd-story-view of the most horrific scene imaginable. Even scarier than that? Only 3 degrees of separation between myself and the man in the 32nd story window…And I wonder to myself how many more people am I connected to who fell victim to the man on the 32nd floor of a Las Vegas casino? According to a theory proposed in 1929, each of us are a mere 6 introductions (or degrees of separation) away from any other person on the planet, and in this case, the theory is off by a few degrees.
I find myself yet again searching for something more. And it finally occurs to me that I want to know more about this man in the window on the 32nd floor. I don’t want to celebrate him, or memorialize him, or even speak his name. But I want to know more. What could possibly lead a person to such a horrific, dark, place?
In the Mental Health field, we’re trained in some ways to think like a psychopath or a criminal. Our job is to help people understand their behaviors and make sense of their emotions. This “skill” is also an occupational hazard. Because in moments like this, I still try to understand. I try to make the pieces fit, and I even go as far as to attempt to find empathy. I consider his “mission”, and consider scenarios in which he had convinced himself that this was what he had to do. I crave to know his purpose. Perhaps it was a religion-based decision, or perhaps it was simply fueled by anger and hate. I can’t be sure. And while much of me feels I need to know, another part of me is afraid to.
My fear is that we all possess this “gene” or characteristic. My fear is that we are all only separated by 6 degrees (or less) from the man on the 32nd floor. My fear is that we as humans will wipe each other off the planet because of this trait. It wasn’t until the late 90’s that research was conducted to determine what makes people happy. Did you know that? Up until that point, psychologists, psychiatrists, and mental health professionals had only studied why we are unhappy, what makes us angry, and what causes depression. Multiple studies (even the happiness ones) have proven how the human brain defaults to the negative, despite the information presented to them. My fear is that the “gene” that drives our negativity, our greed, our hate, and our desire to hurt others, is growing more and more dominant.
When Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”, he knew then that happiness was not an unalienable right, rather that only the pursuit of it was. He knew how hard we would have to work to obtain it. He knew it would not be easy and that we would have to fight against our innate desire to be unhappy. My fear is that over time, we will forget how to pursue our happiness; that we will deny ourselves of it and succumb to the darkness we so often lean toward.
As I sit alone tonight scrolling through the sad, and horrible news feeds and Facebook statuses, I have to remind myself to seek out the panda bear videos and the beautiful pictures taken from the Space Station. Before I go to sleep tonight, I will say aloud the things I am grateful for, and I will pat my pup on the head, and scratch between his ears because I know it makes him happy. I will let him in the bed with me tonight because his cuddles make me happy. I will intentionally write in my journal the good things that happened today, and I will indulge in that left over piece of Tiramisu because I know that if I don’t, my husband will. Perhaps I’ll save him a few bites. I will allow myself to think of the man in the 32nd window, and create in my mind an alternate ending--where he was able to do these things too, and in that moment, he was able to break away from that cancerous gene and make a different decision…Tomorrow I will do my best to be intentional when pursuing my happiness. Because with all that’s happening in the world, I know that at least I can control that.