As days went by this week, my reaction to the Virginia Tech shootings has grown stronger and stronger. I live about 50-60 miles from Blacksburg, which is close, but enough distance to feel insulated initially. I never feared for my safety or for the safety of my geographically local friends. To do so would be a waste of time and a waste of energy, because we can't live our lives in constant fear of what might happen.
By Wednesday, I was really starting to feel the anxiety well up in me, and was desperately hoping that my panic disorder would not be triggered. I think it was the fact that NBC had received the "packet" of materials from Cho that played a large part. Every time I turned on a TV, tuned a radio, checked my webmail, I was confronted with either a photo, video or audio clip of Cho and his painfully disturbed pleas for help. I was starting to feel overloaded, not with grief, but with anxiety.
Thankfully, a TV station out of Roanoke (which is near Blacksburg, but also broadcasts to my town, since we have no station of our own) made the excellent editorial decision to cease all broadcasting of Cho's photo, video, or writing. Not only did they pull these materials, but they did it for the right reasons: because airing these materials is painful for the community and is catering to Cho's desires and disrespecting the victims. I will be getting my news from WSLS from now on.
I don't get very emotional from events that don't affect me directly. I don't know anyone at VT, or anyone who lives in Blacksburg. I'm acquainted (barely) with folks who have children there, folks who are alumni, folks who have friends or partners that work there. None of them were victims, so I feel no real loss. So why have I missed so much sleep? Why did I have nightmares Wednesday and Thursday night about Cho's face? Why do I have such a strong reaction to the gun control debate currently circling the blogosphere?
I'm no therapist, so I don't know, I can only speculate. Maybe it's because I work on a college campus in a sleepy little town much like Blacksburg, so insulated from the evils of the outside world. Maybe it's because I've taught students who are very much like Cho in that they have antisocial tendencies, but I tried to see the best in them and let them be free citizens. Maybe it's because I know of a few mentally disturbed people who own guns, some of whom wear them constantly. Maybe it's because we can all identify, just a little bit, with the pain and frustration that Cho was feeling.
Those calling Cho a "madman" or "psycho" are only describing the troubled persona he manifested on Monday. This man was confused, in severe emotional pain, probably suffered from a psychiatric disorder, and was living in a society that values rugged individualism and shames those who reach out for help. Who among us hasn't felt like the world had turned against us? Who hasn't felt like we were suffering from institutional neglect? Who hasn't suffered grief? Who hasn't suffered a broken heart?
We can't, as a society, keep expecting people to solve these problems alone. Cho didn't have a good support system working for him. I have yet to hear about his family. He had no friends. Therefore, it is up to society to take care of people like him for the good of the rest of society. Right-wingers call that the "nanny state." I call it common sense and decency.