I look forward to the day when a quiet, reclusive loner finally snaps, leaves his tiny apartment and marches onto an elementary school playground in broad daylight and hands every child a bar of dark chocolate, an awesome pop-up version of ‘Leaves of Grass’ and a $25 gift card for Kiva.org.
Can you imagine the headline when a distraught gunman storms into the government office where his ex-wife works, marches straight up to her desk and dumps his wretched gun collection on the floor, tells her he’s sorry for everything and wishes her a blissful and happy life, just before heading off to Tibet to study transcendental meditation for a year and become a poet?
Yeah, me neither. But I bet it’s happened.
Is this even worth asking? Is it a ponderable we can possibly entertain? Have there been any serious behavioral studies to back it up, any hard data from the CDC or the Journal of Psychiatric Research? Let’s try it anyway:
Why is it some someone “snaps,” when someone suffers a savage “break from reality,” it’s always toward the negative, toward violence and destruction of life? Why is it when we give in to our most intense impulses and extreme fantasies, we’re always told it’s toward something vile — murder or rape, suicide or homemade bombs in the street?
Is this not the conventional mythology, reinforced a million ways from Fox News to violent video games to the wretched Catholic church? When we snap, we snap ugly. When we break, we break bad. Sin is everywhere, the devil is crushingly seductive, your rapacious dark side is ever just millimeters from the surface and it’s only the thinnest membrane of social mores and fortuitous brain chemicals that keeps it all in check.
And no wonder! Hey, it’s a cruel world out there, right? We are told as much in movie after movie, song after song, headline after conspiracy theory after talk radio hate-fest: Society can only push us so far. Liberals really want Sharia law, Republicans are pathetic pawns of Wall Street, bitches got me down and The Man laid me off. I’ve been pushed into a corner for too long; something’s gotta give. Revenge, you know? Murder. Rape. Blood. Hey, it’s survival of the fittest, right?
Wrong. Allow me correct the above paragraphs as quickly as possible: It’s total BS. None of it is really true. We are not at all so inclined to murderous rage, the dark side, evil tendencies in the night, despite what you read in the anonymous comments or the extremist blogs, or hear from the right-wing fundamentalist pulpit. Our truest nature is not toward theft, or pedophilia, or bloodshed. Just the opposite, really.
Here’s the reality: The breaking we as a species do is, by and large and for millions of humans every day, toward the good. People have astonishing, heart-full shifts and awakenings, from incremental to momentous, private to life-upheaving, every week, every hour, 50 more in the time it takes you to read this paragraph.
Do not misunderstand. Well do I know we as a culture are fed a steady, gruesome diet of ultra-violence, religious ignorance, marketing chyme, warped sexual messages, hate and corruption and the bottom-feeding vibration that is reality TV. Well do I see the nefarious forces at play, and how many people respond to them by creating even more. I get it.
But that doesn’t mean that’s our nature. That’s just capitalism mating with sensationalism getting bitch-slapped by egomania, minus shrewd education, superlative whisky and the deep tongue kiss that comes from true spiritual investigation. I mean, obvs.
Devotees of deep mystical practices, of yoga, philosophical study, the arts or meditation will frequently stumble into epiphany, into new awareness; perspectives shift, minds open, hearts explode wide open all the time, never to shrivel again.
Members of community churches, of wildly dynamic love relationships, of inquisitive social collectives come out of their gatherings every day and feel like singing, or building, or starting a new business, and they will treat their kids better and kiss their husbands more messily, and the halo effect will take over as lives all around them will get that much more luminous and hopeful and strong. Just the way it works.
This sort of “snap” toward the positive, toward changing life for the better, this happens far more than Aurora, or Columbine, or Virginia Tech, or the Iraq war, or any horror you can name, and that includes Penn State and the Catholic church’s coverups and just about anything Pat Robertson has ever said in his entire life.
It happens, actually millions of times per year. Perhaps billions. It is happening right this moment. You rarely read about it. There is no Facebook page or Twitter feed. There is just no way to keep track.
To understand it better, it helps to spend quality time away from the pop culture/media maelstrom. But it’s more important to see that glorious machine for what it really is: a fantastic, dizzying mutant circus of whipsaw storytelling and frantic ego validation containing lots of delightful distractions, and zero actual truth. I mean, obvs.
Check that: You can, in fact, find plenty of stories of lives saved, hearts expanded, of a single person making a “radical” gesture that transformed a larger group, of someone who was once headed down an abusive or unhealthy path who instead found a teacher, discovered a lover, woke up to a new reality, and went, “Aha.” You just don’t hear about them much on CNN.
We also have endless research proving this or that amazing fact regarding the effects of compassion, or honesty, or what might constitute “happiness.” We know the five biggest regrets of the dying. We have endless evidence that we are not actually a species that relishes guns, or antagonism, or sexual abuse, or worships violence over peace. The fact that a tiny fraction of us do, the fact that some of them hold undue positions of power, can be seen as the source of much of the distortion. But these few are mutations. Anomalies. Aberrations. This is the general rule: The louder their claims of righteousness, the more hollow their cores. Same as it ever was, really.
Perhaps the gist is best captured by a young woman named Helle Gannestad, in the hours following the arrest of Anders Behring Breivik, the wretched sociopath who shot 99 people and killed 77 in the worst mass murder by a lone gunman in modern Western history, in Norway, just last year. (That entire story is here, by Sean Flynn, from a recent issue of GQ, and it will rock you to the core).
In the wake of that unspeakable horror, Gannestad, who was active in the AUF (the youth league of Norway’s Labour Party that Breivik targeted), sent out a tweet which, according to the article, has become a bit of a national sentiment for Norway, and which maybe we can now imagine echoes all the way to Colorado, and beyond.
“If one man can cause so much pain,” she wrote, “imagine how much love we can create together.”