- Jeff White reflects on the stereotypes often assigned to mass shooters
- He says mental disorders and video games cannot be blamed for acts of violence
- "Let's get stereotypes out of our analysis of mass murders," he writes
- Have a personal essay to share with the world? Submit at CNN iReport
If the so-called evidence from mass shootings is to be believed, you should fear me simply because I've played violent games and because I have Asperger syndrome.
After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings one year ago, many speculated on whether shooter Adam Lanza had Asperger's, a form of autism. And Aaron Alexis, who killed 13 in September's Washington Navy Yard shooting, had a history of playing violent video games. It seems that every time there's a horrible act of violence in our society, we rush to blame it on something like this.
In reality, I'm squeamish. I play video games, particularly shooting games, because they keep my hand-eye coordination up and help me think on my feet. I'm ordinarily quite clumsy physically, and I don't always think on my feet very well, both of which are traits that come along with the Asperger's diagnosis. In fact, I've found that many characteristics of people with Asperger's can be improved by playing video games: difficulty communicating via body language and facial expressions, seeing things in black and white, lack of physical coordination, lack of social skills, and having very focused interests. My fine motor skills wouldn't work terribly well if it wasn't for video games and computers. And I never paid much attention to detail before video games -- try getting a job without that skill.
Oftentimes, the easiest way for us to improve ourselves is to adopt an alternate persona -- maybe a nickname, or a game character -- and play through the game making different choices than we usually do. It allows us to experiment and be creative in ways that we would find difficult in front of most people. By no stretch of the imagination am I a spokesperson for Asperger's, but it's all too easy to judge what you don't understand. Video games, even violent ones, are one of those things. They can be extremely helpful.
Now that we've got that cleared up, let's make one other thing clear: Mass shootings are not the result of mental illnesses or disorders. First of all, most are treatable. I am a prime example of that.
I was diagnosed with Asperger's when I was 10 years old. I often have to be intentional about doing the things that most people do naturally, like looking someone in the eye and using hand gestures, because they do not come naturally to me. Having to cope with a disorder means that I have to work much harder at living life day-to-day than most people do. This gives me an advantage because I know a lot about body language, communication, and myself overall that most people don't come to know until they're much older. Don't believe me? Look up the memoirs "Look Me In the Eye" by John Elder Robison or "Running with Scissors" by Augusten Burroughs. You'll meet people who have Asperger's, like me, and go on to be very successful despite backgrounds that would turn most people into a nervous wreck.
If you want to say mass shootings are a result of untreated mental illness, you're still off, because there are a good many people who have untreated mental illness and get by without doing something violent. Many times, all it takes is one person to say, "I care about you."
Maybe I'm idealistic and naive. But too often, we read all the media reports we can about a tragedy like Sandy Hook, stay up to date on all the developments, and then try to play armchair judge about what caused it and what happened. Real life doesn't work that way. We cannot stereotype based on a handful of vague factors and then say "you're at risk for shooting people."
So, let's make an effort this time around not to go murmuring to ourselves, "Better watch out for those schizophrenics and gamers, they might shoot you." Let's get stereotypes out of our analysis of mass murders, and let's try to focus on what we can do: Stop bullying, support people that ask for help, and care about the people we come in contact with. Let's take the time to treat people the way we'd have them treat us, instead of trampling on them in our efforts to get ahead. Chances are, if someone's having a bad day, and you give them respect, they'll remember it. And if they're having a really bad day, you might just give them a ray of hope in their otherwise dark lives. OK, you're not preventing murder every time you treat someone with kindness, but maybe you're giving someone the strength and compassion they need to go to their dead-end job or fulfill obligations to their family.
The enemy we're fighting isn't something that can be categorized simply by slapping labels on things. The enemy is desperation, and desperation has many labels, many faces, and many circumstances. If we do our best to end the desperation by providing care and kindness, maybe then the violence will stop.