Angry Boys

Not Again! The shock, horror, and disgust are all too familiar feelings. Yet for those of us not directly impacted by the recent shootings it can quickly become just another headline in the news and then within a few hours or days we get back to our lives. It may take a little longer this time because three such events occurred within 10 days of each other: at a Garlic Festival in California (2 dead), a Walmart in Texas (22 dead) and on a street in Ohio (9 dead).

These events leave us perplexed, with many attempting to assign blame and trying to explain why these young men would go to such extremes. With all the finger pointing and accompanying knee jerk reactions to the horror it is possible to miss that these shootings are part of a much bigger issue.

According to the Chicago Tribune, in a similar 10-day period in July of this year, 100 individuals were murdered in Chicago; 85% of these fatalities were male, and of that number 81% were between the ages of 18 and 40. The slaughter is not limited to Chicago, nor to shopping malls and lone shooters. Neither are its victims and perpetrators limited to one race, ethnicity nor political persuasion.  Whether 100 lives, one at a time or 22 lives, in one single event, the truth is clear that we have a problem. 

It would be naïve to believe that there is a simple answer that explains these senseless homicides and the over-representation of young men among both the perpetrators and the victims. We have been hearing about the proliferation of guns, mental health issues, white supremacy on the rise, video games and drugs. No doubt there are a multitude of contributing factors.

To these factors is added an interesting viewpoint from New York Post columnist, Maureen Callahan. She proposes that “Angry young men continue to be America’s greatest threat” She supports her belief by citing the words of the California garlic festival shooter who when a bystander cried out “Why are you doing this?” he replied, “because I’m really angry.”

Callahan notes that the kind of anger demonstrated in these latest events is common to the nineteen similar shootings from the past 20 years which she refers to in her column. This anger is “deep, repressed, biblically vengeful — felt most commonly by young men, almost always white, who report feeling alienated, dispossessed, misunderstood, victimized and all too often rejected by women.”

While she bases her hypothesis on the extreme end of the “Angry Boy” spectrum, we can still learn from these observations to better understand and help “Angry Boys” in general who fall within our circle of influence. Do we know young men who are experiencing deep anger, but who may have greater self-control than your typical mass-shooter? If anger is one of the contributing factors to the extreme and systemic violence we are witnessing, then we need to do something to help young men along the entire spectrum of anger, who may be, as Callahan observes “…nurturing their anger through first-person shooter games, violent pornography, through racism and a fascination with guns and violence.”

In order to help young men process their anger in healthier ways, we must first understand the emotion that they are experiencing. What do we know about anger?

  1. Anger is an emotion. Some would say it is a secondary emotion; meaning that hidden beneath the anger one often finds other core emotions like fear, sadness and shame that are perceived as more painful or vulnerable than anger; and thus avoided with anger. 

  2. Emotions want to be expressed.  At the same time our families and cultures often demand that as children and later as adults, we repress most emotions in order to be more socially acceptable

  3. It is not unreasonable to conclude that the out-of-control and violent expressions of anger shown by young men are in part the result of an inability to express their emotions in healthy ways.

While it may be difficult to understand the actions of these gunmen or the degree of anger they experience, we can understand our own. What makes us angry? Is it frustration? Rejection? Betrayal? Not feeling heard? The list is no doubt long and unique for each of us and yet if we boil it down, it probably has to do with a perceived or real lack of control, including our stories of being controlled by others or by society in general. 

One noteworthy fact that has emerged about the El Paso shooter is his written manifesto. It is a study in contradictions where he expresses the beliefs of a white supremacist, feeling invaded by Hispanics, juxtaposed with espousing beliefs in overpopulation, environmental concerns and anti-corporate America. The beliefs are confusing and seemingly contradictory, displaying the probability of mental illness in this case. However, it also points to a problem that we, at Discover Identity™ highlight in our writings and mission. Many of our young men don’t have a solid foundation for what they believe and more importantly, in who they are. 

At Discover Identity we believe that boys must go through a period in their lives when they pursue the heroic as a natural part of their maturing process. This includes having a battle to fight, a foe to defeat and a desire for recognition. But what if the underlying principles that drive their heroism are not well formed? What if some of the foundational principles of their identity are not yet developed or worse yet, completely deranged? What if there is insufficient influence by emotionally healthy adults in the lives of young men, serving as guides and role models to these young men during their maturing process? How do we counterbalance the influence of social media and the media in general without such mentors?

Without a healthy sense of self and a supportive, real world community to which they are anchored, these angry young men are ill-equipped to deal with what they perceive as attacks on who they believe themselves to be and the world they’ve created; often built upon the illusory world of the internet. In a confusing world that no longer provides a definitive identity nor an outlet for their inner hero, these angry boys can become frustrated to the point of eruption.

One of our fundamental principles at Discover Identity and the Men of Good Will is the belief that when one has established a healthy personal identity, then one is better able to reach out and both accept others’ differences and help others. Men of Good Will strives to increase the capacity of men, and by direct connection, the capacity of our young men, to better handle emotions and to discover and create their identities in safe, supportive environments where foundational principles of life can be tested and formed.