Over the weekend, I read Dave Cullen's new book: Columbine. I had reserved it at my local library months ago, before it was published. The county ordered 31 copies of the book. A copy for me to read fortuitously came in during this tenth anniversary of the Columbine Tragedy. I picked up the book at the Columbine Library which is within walking distance of the Columbine High School where it all happened a decade ago. I live less than two miles from the high school.
The book is very well researched and written. Cullen's analysis of the contrasting motives of the two shooters and the synergy between them was exactly what I was hoping to find in the book. The excursion through the many individual experiences deepened my empathy for many people's pain. Reading the book was emotionally immersive and exhausting. The ups and downs I went through as a reader is a smaller scale version of the journey taken by those directly impacted.
Of course I was considering the role of emotional baggage as I read the book. Obviously everyone who lost someone in their lives acquired some baggage that began as symptoms of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and survivor guilt. Many parents around the world acquired some baggage that views sending their children to school as dangerous. The school teachers, law enforcement professionals and court administrators who all failed to address three years of early warning signs in the two shooters -- may also be burdened by a heavy load of baggage. The subsequent conflicts , litigation, expressions of hatred and inability to move on are all indications of robust baggage on board.
The story of Patrick Ireland in the book, provides us with an view of how to acquire a minimum of baggage following a massive tragedy. He's the student who escaped the shooting by falling out of a second story window in the school. He immediately let go of what happened and encouraged his parents to forgive the shooters once he could speak again. He focused on the challenge it created for him to engage the plasticity of his brain to create new connections to his muscles and short term memory. He was walking without crutches when the school reopened the following fall and lead the students into the building. When we worked at getting back to water skiing, there was a time where the struggle, frustration and losses got to him. He cried his eyes out to get it out of his system. He is an icon of "feeling the feelings, letting past history go and moving on".
The story of Eric Harris provides us with a view of how some "acting out" runs deeper than emotional baggage. The top FBI negotiator for hostage standoff situations had a son enrolled in Columbine High School. He brought his expertise to the case in order to develop a psychological profile of the shooters. He determined that Eric fit the diagnosis of a psychopath almost verbatim. The only missing trait was cruelty to animals. Brain scans of the psychopaths show the emotional processing function of their brains (amygdala) does not respond to stimulation from danger or other's emotions. They are incapable of empathy, compassion, or consideration of other's experiences. They are superb con artists who fool all but the most experienced with psychopaths. This appears to be a condition people are born with, like a birth defect. There are no correlations with how they are raised, living situations, or peer pressures. The only correlation is gender: 80% are male. In other words, this form of cruelty is not acquired from life experiences. It's the result of nature, not nurture. It's not a symptom of emotional baggage. It's a birth defect that goes undetected in most people with this condition.
These added perspectives have given me much to ponder as I continue to create the workbook for resolving emotional baggage.