Monday, April 23, 2007

We Need A New Way To Refer To Either Us Or To Evil

David Brooks got a real reaction to his column in the New York Times about the killings at Virginia Tech. I don't know if they got more letters to the editor than usual, but I know they got some. Brooks was raising the issue of free will in the discussion of the tragedy. I am not sure how anyone knows the state of mind of the killer, but I have heard and read all sorts of opinions.

Let me be clear. I have no idea what state his brain, mind, or soul was in when he murdered and wounded the people on the campus of Virginia Tech and I am not going to try and guess.

One of the letters read, "What also must be debated is the moral responsibility of social systems to protect society from Mr Cho and Mr. Cho from himself. These systems failed, largely because of barriers to treating his mental illness." Mary Beth Pfeiffer, Stone Ridge, NY

I am not sure how she knew he was mentally ill. Does an act that we cannot understand mean one is mentally ill? Does having a suicide assessment mean one is mentally ill? Does being a loner mean one is mentally ill? Does being reported as a stalker mean one is mentally ill? What does being mentally ill mean?

Being mentally ill in this country has a different meaning since the shootings at Virginia Tech. Whatever progress had been made on fighting the stigma of being mentally ill just went out the window. To some degree all of us with a mental illness just took on the face of the murderer the world saw for hours on their televisions and in the newspapers around the world.

If every time an act of horror is committed by another person they are going to be called mentally ill, then we need another word for those of us who live daily with a brain disorder like bipolar and other brain disorders. I do not want to be identified with every evil act of mankind simply because I was born with a brain that does not work normally and that I have to take medications to keep it functioning properly.

The bottom line. We need a new way to refer to either us or to evil acts. The same word cannot be used for both.

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