The horrifying tragedy in Santa Barbara has brought out understandable curiosity in many of us. Why would he do it? How can someone bring themselves to commit a mass murder? What would drive someone to kill? Could this horror have been prevented?
I promise you that no one is more interested in human behavior -- and specifically human behavior that has gone astray -- than I am. And yet I will not abide giving one more click to the videos, writings and so-called "manifesto" of the killer of six UCSB students, the person who has shattered hundreds of lives. In fact, I won't even type his name here. Why? Because I very strongly believe that many of the answers that we seek in our horror are right there in front of us -- that he wanted payback for having been, in his perception, an underdog. Inferior. A nobody. He wanted to come out on top. He wanted to "triumph" and be somebody.
And we're giving him this honor why, exactly?
People criticize celebrities who have gotten that way for "doing nothing," and we're quick to take offense at fame-seekers who'll do anything to get publicity. Why, then, are we totally okay -- and even indulgent -- in giving this gift to murderers? In granting them a forum for their dysfunctional and cruel thoughts? In letting them, in essence, have the final say on the lives of their victims? Several national media outlets have already publicized, in detail, his merciless and beyond-cruel comments about his first victims, his roommates. They did this paragraphs before simply mentioning the roommates names and nothing else. Since when is it okay for us to let someone's killer write the most commonly read version of their obituary?
Some might say, "But he's dead now. He's not getting the satisfaction of this publicity." Oh, but think about it. He knew this fame would come, and it is very reasonable to assume that he sought it out -- and that it provided motivation for the murders in the first place. No doubt his clearly-laid-out plans of "retribution" would have lost a lot of their allure if he thought he'd be ignored and that his victims would be given all the attention. But he knew better. Our fascination gets the best of us, and it starts to look a little too much like adulation, as we shower him with headlines and, as of yet, give his victims only a small percentage of the same press attention.
And the next person to follow in his footsteps? They might be loving, more than anyone, your every click, his every photo plastered on every front page, and the fact that now his name will be spoken by millions, and for years to come.
And the more you gift him with this, the more you could provide the motivation for others to seek out the same.
Let's make our conversation about the victims. Let's talk about how much more they deserved out of life, how much they were wronged. How much they will be missed by their friends and family. That's what all this publicity should be about. Let your clicks send that message instead. And maybe, in doing so, we can save some lives.
Copyright Andrea Bonior, Ph.D.
Andrea Bonior is a licensed clinical psychologist, media commentator, professor, and author of The Friendship Fix and the Washington Post Express's longtime advice column Baggage Check. Follow her on twitter @drandreabonior or Facebook.