Last Friday night, a series of shootings and stabbings occurred in Isla Vista, Calif. Community college student Elliot Rodger, fed up with having been bullied and rejected all his life, stabbed his roommates, drove around town shooting others and running them down with his car, including sorority girls who rejected him, then eventually engaged in gunfire with police. He died of a gunshot wound to the head which it is believed was self-inflicted. Here is a story from a TV news site based in that area: http://www.keyt.com/news/shooting-in-isla-vista/26152454
I’ve been following this story this weekend; I find it, and people’s responses, intriguing. In case any of you were wondering, no this was not near me, and to my knowledge, I do not know anyone personally who was involved in the shooting. I live in California, yes, as the header graphic to this site would suggest, but Isla Vista is in Santa Barbara County, a six hour drive from my home in Sacramento County. In all my travels up and down California, Santa Barbara County is one of the population centers that I’m not as familiar with. I’ve only been to Isla Vista once, briefly, 12 years ago. Isla Vista is bounded by the UC Santa Barbara campus and the beach. From what I remember, and what I’ve heard and read, most of the residents are college students, both UCSB students and community college students drawn to the college town and beach party atmosphere.
The more I read about Elliot Rodger, the more I keep thinking that it could have been me. This was a kid who had a history of being bullied. He felt rejected by women and by the stereotypical cool kids, and he didn’t know how to handle this rejection. I had much of the same history of bullying and rejection in my childhood and teen years, and I didn’t know how to handle it either. I occasionally had dark fantasies about the perpetrators of these bullying incidents, some of which inspired stories I would write. Sometimes I let things build and build inside me until I would lose control and explode. So why did this kid act on these dark thoughts and cause so much senseless death and suffering, and not me?
I think the main reason is that, while I experienced a lot of bullying and rejection, I also had some great friends who loved me just the way I was. They reached out to me, even though I didn’t always respond well. They didn’t turn their back on me when I was overreacting. And in the case of some of my friends from the beginning of college, they led me to Jesus Christ. Without them around, who knows what I would have turned out like? Who knows what demons of darkness would have taken over me eventually?
Some have been responding to this event by blaming the white male patriarchy for creating a society where violence against women is acceptable. Some say that the women that Elliot shot deserved their fate because they wouldn’t sleep with him. Wrong. Violence against women, or against anyone for that matter, is never okay and never deserved. And these women who rejected him had every right to do so. None of those things make this violent response acceptable. (Also, I’ve read clips from Elliot’s manifesto, and he had a lot of anger at men as well, not just women.) The blame should be placed with Elliot. He committed these crimes with what appears to be premeditation. These are the actions of a deeply disturbed individual.
But there’s something that isn’t being said here. Could this have been prevented if more people had reached out and tried to befriend Elliot? How many of those people who are going on about blaming the patriarchy have come across someone like Elliot in their past and dismissed him or her as just another weirdo who needs medication? I’ve been treated like that before. Once years ago, when I was at The Church With The Problems, I was searching for myself on Google, and I discovered someone I knew from church talking about me to strangers on a message board that she was part of, in which she said I had serious mental issues and needed to take medication. More recently, I had a friend tell me that she thought I was creepy at first until she got to know me and realize that I was really cool, but I can tell that some of her friends never got over their creepy view of me. I am fortunate, like I said, that not everyone has treated me like this, and that I know that God accepts me as I am. This has helped me go on in those times of rejection, and that kept me from turning out the way Elliot did.
Yes, there are people who genuinely do need medication, but throwing pills at a problem doesn’t fix everything. From what I’ve read, Elliot grew up in a wealthy family with a father and stepmother who were busy working in the film industry. What if Elliot’s family had spent more time with him, teaching him to be self-confident and to deal with bullies appropriately? What if a group of friends had taken him in and shown him that they cared about who he was and wanted him to be a part of their lives? What if Elliot had discovered the transforming selfless love of Jesus Christ instead of typing his 141-page manifesto in which he selfishly proclaimed himself to be a god? Building community with those on the fringes of society is hard. But it is essential to making a better world. Whatever your religious beliefs, if you want a better world, start with the way you treat others, particularly those outside of the mainstream of society and outside of your own little bubble. When you see someone on the fringes of society struggling to fit in, reach out to them. It might help, it might not — from what I’ve read, it appears that there were people who reached out to Elliot — but it’s better than doing nothing.
And thank you to those who reached out to me. I may not be here today to write this if not for you.