Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Some difficult questions

What are the ramifications of calling Adam Lanza a monster? At the outset - let me state that I see no problem calling what he did monstrous. It was. End of story. At the same time, I always cringe when we decide that we're comfortable calling another human being a monster.

If Adam Lanza is a monster - do we think he was born that way? Is humanity capable of giving birth to monster's who's destiny is simply a matter of fate? That's something that every fiber of my being responds to with a definitive "NO!"

You see...I've worked personally with children at every stage of their development who were headed for that label. And in EVERY SINGLE CASE, what I haven't seen are little one's who were born that way. What I've seen is little one's who might have genetic propensities for mental health/chemical dependency issues just like they might have genetic propensities for things like cancer or heart problems. But minus some serious deprivation as children, they were little ones who have a capacity for both good and evil - just like you and me.

What seems to be more unique to human beings than any other living creature is that we require the loving care of dependable adults in order for our capacity for good to overcome our capacity for evil. Many of us have been fortunate to get enough of that in one form or another to prevent us from doing something monstrous. And there are some of us who don't. While we may never hear the details of Adam Lanza's life - let me assure you, he was one of the latter.

I'm not saying that to suggest that we should feel sympathy for him - or that we shouldn't be enraged at his monstrous acts. What I AM saying is that calling another human being a monster is something I'm not willing to consider. Not because of any need to protect the Adam Lanza's of the world - but because I want to protect my view of what it means to be human.

The truth is, I'd suggest that we tend to call someone like him a monster because it helps provide us with an explanation of the unimaginable and it absolves us of responsibility - as a community - for our own failures to address the needs of someone like Adam Lanza.

I would also suggest that until we do those difficult things, we will continue to raise children who are capable of monstrous acts.

Yesterday I was remembering that one of the first young people I ever worked with professionally went on to commit suicide about 6 months after she left the treatment program where I met her. It was a devastating blow for someone so new to the field in which I had chosen to work. What I realized in my grief was that no one who knew her could absolve themselves of asking the question "what could I have done?" And no one in her life had the privilege of avoiding the question. It didn't mean I blamed myself  for her death...it just meant I owned my responsibility to her - one I had failed.

Those - like the questions I'm asking here today - are extremely painful questions that we often try to avoid. I would suggest that we do so at our own peril.

Yes, we failed those 20 children in Newton because we failed to do things like enact better gun control. But we also failed them because we failed Adam Lanza. It doesn't have to be one or the other. I know people don't want to hear that at a time like this. But if we want to take the words of President Obama seriously, that too is part of the difficult change we need to contemplate.
It comes as a shock at a certain point where you realize no matter how much you love these kids, you can’t do it by yourself, that this job of keeping our children safe and teaching them well is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community and the help of a nation.

And in that way we come to realize that we bear responsibility for every child, because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours, that we’re all parents, that they are all our children.

This is our first task, caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.
I guess what I'm saying is that at one point, Adam Lanza was one of our children too. When we ignore that reality, we are also ignoring our responsibility to the 20 children he went on to kill.


  1. Dear SP
    Your post brings tears to my heart! We have a 17 yr old with Asperger complicated by cerebral palsy. She was not diagnosed until age 12. She does not represent a threat to a mouse. She has amazing verbal skills including vocabulary, memory and expressing herself in writing.

    Thank you for understanding that they need everyone to embrace them as they accept that Aspies cannot return that caring exactly. They just do it differently.

    I remain convinced that Adam sadly had something else wrong completely unrelated to Aspergers. I pray for him. His eyes are haunting.


  2. Unfortunately I place a lot of the responsibilty on his mother, it has been reported that she instucted the babysitter to never turn his back on Adam. Wouldn't be evidence enough that something very serious and very disturbing in his life?


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