Dr. Kenneth J. Manges, PhD, Forensic Psychologist
Like moths drawn to a flame, we look, wonder and converse about violence. Our attraction, simultaneously curiously morbid and filled with rife, we look on and chat with our friends and loved ones about the tragedies we see day to day.
Shootings, beheadings, and deranged men wielding knives out to kill the President cause us to try and make sense of the nonsensical.
From a psychological perspective, one I practice on a daily basis as a forensic psychologist, I’ve come to appreciate life and healthy thinking.
I have also come to appreciate we can’t always connect the dots of disturbed behavior in a logical and simultaneously coherent way. Sometimes the dots or the events leading up to a mass killing, adolescent gone berserk or a respected authority acting in an irrational and meaningless way is just a sequence of events without a knowable rationale.
Sometimes the perpetrator of the crime hasn’t even connected their own dots. They haven’t connected their feelings with their actions in their own mind. One aspect of an anti personality diagnosis is that the person acts without thinking.
Those disturbed people who commit violent crimes, may have acted on an impulse and that impulse behavior is by definition, not based on rational thinking. Not all disturbed people can be predicted to act violently but those who act impulsively and commit violent behavior are not acting without thinking.
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The United Nations defined a terrorist as a criminal act intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, terror in a group of persons or terror for particular persons for political purposes.
The UN, and I agree, believe that a terrorist’s behavior is unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of their political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious cause that they may be trying to invoke to justify their actions.
Profiling terrorists seemingly easy, i.e. one who acts like a terrorist. But hold on. Not all terrorist acts are so easily defined. Is a disturbed adolescent labeled a terrorist when he/she brings a pistol to the school to shoot students?
Profiling terrorists as an anti personality disorder (e.g. predators who act in a harmful way without consideration of the damage they cause to others), may be useful but also gets us off tract.
Yes, we can group terrorists and predators together to find commonalities but common elements won’t predict uncommon episodic emotional implausible acts (think Sandy Hook Connecticut and now Marysville, Washington).
Implausible acts may beg for a plausible explanation, but connecting the dots or understanding why somebody would go into a school and shoot friends and acquaintances is our need to get closure (Zargonic Effect) but doesn’t always conform to a neat set of ifs and then scenarios. Reality is sometimes less than logical.
We can try to deconstruct impulsive acts, but they are still impulses, not necessarily cleverly thought out premeditations.
So what are we to do? Are we to arm police forces with Humvees (think Ferguson)? Are we to use choke holds to subdue tax evading cigarette sales (think Eric Gardner in NYC)? Have us undress at the airport to get on a plane?
Oh yeah, I forgot, we’ve done all that but the killing and victimization still goes on.
No, I think a part of the answer is we go back to kindergarten. Some twenty five years ago Robert Fulghum came up with a plan. All I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten.
Many of these misguided, deranged acts by predators and terrorists are intended to frighten, paralyze and impress. Many times the predators and terrorists act impulsively because of a misguided belief. When does a predator or terrorist win? When we act toward others without thinking in anticipation that if we don’t act in our own self interest someone else may act against us.
All I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten presented some basic ideas for us to consider in a very violent, unpredictable world when faced with irrational acts. Not to simplify, or minimize the tragedy where there is loss of freedom or loss of life, please consider Fulghum’s foundational suggestions for getting along: sharing, not hitting others, putting things back where they belong, not taking things that don’t belong to us and saying your sorry when someone else gets hurt because of your intentional or unintentional act. These will not stop the determined predator or terrorist but they will help to make our world more sane and pleasurable to be a part of on an everyday basis and go a long way towards minimizing the violence that is within our control.
Dr. Kenneth Manges is a forensic, clinical and vocational psychologist who has treated, evaluated and testified for over 40 years. His offices are located in Ohio.