Within hours of the massacre of more than 30 people at Virginia Tech University, the president of the university issued his first statement on the evil that had just engulfed the college campus and concluded with this:
“We’re making plans for a convocation tomorrow at noon in Cassell Coliseum for the university to come together to begin the healing process from this terrible tragedy.”
Other university officials also spoke about beginning the healing process and about bringing in counselors to help students heal.
I believe that this early healing talk is both foolish and immoral.
It is foolish because one does not speak about healing the same day (or week or perhaps even month) that one is traumatized — especially by evil. One must be allowed time for anger and grief. To speak of healing and “closure” before one goes through those other emotions is to speak not of healing but of suppression.
Not to allow people time to experience their natural, and noble, instincts to feel rage and grief actually deprives them of the ability to heal in the long run. After all, if there is no rage and grief, what is there to heal from?
The Jewish tradition, still observed even by non-Orthodox Jews, is to sit “shiva” (seven) days and do nothing but mourn and receive visitors after the death of an immediate relative. One does not have to be a religious Jew or even a Jew to appreciate this ancient wisdom.
It is not good for people to feign normalcy immediately after the loss of a loved one. People who have not been allowed, or not allowed themselves, time to grieve suffer later on. Any child who loses a parent and is “protected” from grieving by a well-intentioned parent who tries to act “normal” right after the other parent’s death is likely to pay a steep psychological price.
Personally, I don’t want to heal now. I want to feel rage at the monster who slaughtered all those young innocent people at Virginia Tech. And I want to grieve over those innocents’ deaths.
This whole notion of instant healing (like its twin, instant forgiveness) is also morally wrong.
First, it is narcissistic. It focuses on me and my pain, not on the murderer and the murdered.
Second, it is almost obscene to talk of our healing when the bodies of the murdered are still lying in their blood on the very spot they were slaughtered. Our entire focus of attention must be on them and on the unspeakable suffering of their loved ones, not on the pain of the student body and the Virginia Tech “community.”
This notion of instant healing and preoccupation with the feelings of the peripherally involved, as opposed to the feelings of the directly hurt and anger over the evil committed, are functions of the psychotherapeutic culture in which we live.
I am an advocate of psychotherapy — I frequently feature a psychiatrist as a guest on my radio show. But a major downside of the psychotherapeutic culture is that it regards everything in life in psychological terms and is preoccupied with feelings and the elimination of pain.
Pain is necessary. I far prefer a Virginia Tech campus filled with students enraged at the monstrous evil just committed and filled with grief over the deaths of so many of their fellow students than a Virginia Tech filled with students worried about healing their own pain.
Immediate talk of “healing” is not the only rhetoric we should drop. Let’s also drop the nearly universal moral absurdity of counting murderers among the dead. As of this writing, eight hours after the massacre, I see on all the networks “32 dead.” It should read “31 murdered.” I do not know when exactly this notion of counting murderers along with their victims began, but it is a moral travesty.
No news organization would have imagined giving the number of dead at Pearl Harbor so as to include Japanese pilots shot down. But in our age of moral neutrality, all dead are given equal weight — the terrorist along with his victims; the shooter along with the students.
Why is the Virginia Tech murderer always referred to as the “gunman” and not the “murderer”? Had he stabbed a dozen students to death, would he be the “knifeman”?
And why is it always referred to as a “tragedy”? Virginia Tech wasn’t hit by a cyclone. That would be a tragedy. This was evil. Call it that.
We have embraced emotion-numbing, righteous-rage-denying, morally neutered, therapeutic language. It is as much a part of our national crisis as are the acts of evil we refuse to identify as such.