To sum up the news I’m referring to, Vester Lee Flanagan, a former reporter for a local TV channel from Virginia, the WDBJ7, planned this whole terrible act very carefully and in order to get the maximum audience possible. In the morning of the 26th of August, 2015, two of his former co-workers from WDBJ7, the 24-year-old reporter Alison Parker and 27-year-old cameraman and photographer Alan Ward, had moved to the beautiful setting of Smith Mountain Lake, in Roanoke, Virginia.
Parker and Ward were carrying out a live interview to Mrs. Vicki Gardner, president of the local chamber of commerce, for the sake of tourism promotion. With chilling, cold-blooded deliberation, Flanagan recorded as well with his own, good-quality camera, as he approached from behind the group of three people, oblivious of his presence.
A few hours later, the whole world watched on the news the shocking images he uploaded on Facebook of how he opened fire on them out of the blue, among the horrified screams of the victims and the sounds of shell casings falling on the ground. Only Mrs. Gardner survived, critically wounded. She received a gunshot on the back but the family has hopes of full recovery.
An article about the shooting by The Guardian.
Another article by The Guardian describing Flanagan psychologically.
Flanagan, who had been made redundant two years before from WDBJ7 and had a reputation for being a belligerent and an overly difficult person, again supposedly sent to ABC News, two hours prior to the killing, a 23-pages long fax signed under his professional pseudonym Bryce Williams.
In this statement he explained his reasons for the attack. The 41-year-old man had filed complaints over racism and ill-treatment at work before, against not only the WBDJ7 but also the WTWC, Florida’s NBC affiliate, where he had also worked for a short period of time. These complaints were dismissed as his own irrational fabrication. In the manifesto he sent to ABC News, he stated that he wanted to seek revenge for the racial killing in Charleston, South Carolina, that had happened earlier in June. He himself admitted to feeling like a bomb just about to go off at any moment:
“Yes, it will sound like I am angry…I am. And I have every right to be. But when I leave this Earth, the only emotion I want to feel is peace. […] The church shooting was the tipping point…but my anger has been building steadily…I’ve been a human powder keg for a while…just waiting to go BOOM!!!!”
An article by Heavy.com describing even more details about Vester Lee Flanagan.
Righteous and persecuted as he deemed himself, Flanagan’s act has become, indeed, an expansive influence on the media, yet as beneficial towards the values he defended as a nuclear blast. He was black, he was gay, and he was a Jehovah’s Witness. Those members of our globalized society who were already biased against the individuals which showed one or more of these characteristics or affiliations now can use Flanagan’s example as an excuse to “justify” and breed even more senseless hatred, ostracism and violence.
This news reminds me of yet another extremely tragic and recent killing, carried out by a man who was silently consumed by his inner anger as well, Andreas Günter Lubitz. After much struggle, this 27-year-old man had finally achieved his lifetime ambition, which was to pilot aircrafts, and was working as a co-pilot for Germanwings. Nevertheless, he was also struggling to keep secret that he was suffering from a major problem affecting his eyesight and also from some mental illness, purportedly a bipolar disorder and/or manic depression. Lubitz knew that as soon as his illnesses became known by his employers, he would be declared officially incapacitated for work. On the 24th of March, 2015, after tearing up some sick notes from his doctors declaring him unable to fly and which were later found by the police and investigators, Lubitz embarked in the Germanwings Airbus A320-200 to co-pilot for the Flight 4U9525, together with the 34-year-old Captain Patrick Sondenheimer. This flight, which was to go from Barcelona to Düsseldorf, crashed instead on the French Alps, killing instantly the 144 passengers and the six members of the crew.
An article by The Telegraph about the Germanwings plane crash.
Later investigations proved that Lubitz crashed the plane on purpose. He had been searching the Internet for the words ‘suicide’ and ‘cockpit door’, and had even rehearsed maneuvering unjustified, sudden descents in other flights prior to the incident. He allegedly spiked the pilot’s drink with some laxative or diuretic product that forced him to leave the cockpit for the toilet, a moment that Lubitz took advantage of to lock himself up all alone in the cockpit, and cold-bloodedly lead the plane to mortal collision, committing thus suicide while mass-murdering the rest of the passengers and crew on the plane.
Another article by The Telegraph about Andreas Lubitz's health problems and suicide tendencies.
An article by Mirror explaining how Lubitz spiked the Captain's drink in order to be left alone in the cockpit.
Andreas Günter Lubitz had a now devastated loving girlfriend and family, and the news that he was suffering from suicidal depression shocked most of his closest relatives and acquaintances. A 79-year-old aunt of his declared for the German newspaper Bild: "I knew nothing of mental health problems or eye problems. When we celebrated family occasions, he was happy. He never spoke about stress at work. […] We were proud that he had fulfilled his childhood dream." Everybody who knew Lubitz told the press that he was a very nice and educated person, yet a little bit reserved. They were all in shock. While Vester Lee Flanagan flaunted his rage and was well-known for his polemical character, Andreas Günter Lubitz bottled all the anger up and hid it very efficiently from everybody around him, with even more deadly consequences, as regards numbers, for the innocent victims of his rage and their families.
These two young men were no sadistic serial killers, rapists, pimps, drug dealers, human traffickers, cult leaders or criminals of any kind before their final and definitive outbursts of anger. They were no monsters in appearance. They weren't shady; no oppressive music played in the background to announce their evil presence while they walked in the scene, like we are so used to see in movies, where everything is so transparent, so easy... Perchance they looked a little bit like losers, lost and anxious and yes, permanently enraged, like William Foster from Falling Down. Just a couple of over-stressed, hard-working men who cared way too much about their jobs and didn’t know how to relate to others in society without feeling awkward or rejected for who they really were.
It is easy to imagine men resembling Lubitz or Flanagan being overly kind to others during their youths, and then growing up to become gradually disappointed and frustrated with the outcomes; too committed to their ideals and dreams, too enraged towards averse circumstances or other people who chose to behave differently from how they ‘righteously’ believed, perceived things should be... We all know people, men and women, who are like that. They aren't special. If it hadn't been for Flanagan's and Lubitz's murders, they could have been considered, basically, common good men for most people, their whole lives. This makes them the most dangerous and unpredictable type of killers that walk and work amongst us. And there are many of them, growing every second in numbers.
Years of thoughtless consumerism followed by the worldwide economic crisis has re-enacted the Wall Street Crash of 1929, but this time affecting almost all the societies on the globe. It has been a tragedy for many, and an enormous amount of people have hopelessly seen their dreams shattered in pieces: they have lost their jobs, their homes, their families, their health, the possibility to afford an education, medical treatments, a better future, to take care of their elders or even to have children. From abundance we have stepped into survival mode, and this has wounded many of us fatally. We were not prepared mentally, nor emotionally for this -- no one taught us about what it feels like to be so helpless.
On the other hand, this is also the era of the social media, and so far it has been used very inappropriately by many. Instead of seeking a real connection worldwide, many people have used their Facebooks, Instagrams, Twitter accounts to brag about their fortune, beauty, exciting social life, accomplishments, followers and admirers and, overall, their extensive fabulousness. This is fine in regard to those who can afford to show off such riches, yet it is also an easy way to fuel and liven up even more the blaze of frustration and discontentment that already breeds and grows inside the soul of those who are not so fortunate.
Such showing off is, actually, a very inconsiderate, non-solidary and narcissistic stance, yet it has become the norm very quickly, and we are to get over it. And not everybody is aware enough of the fact that one cannot believe everything posted on social media and consider these posts a faithful reflection of a perfect life, for this is only a small part of it. Those people who cannot distinguish a social media profile from a person’s whole and real identity are the ones who are the most susceptible to feel even more humiliated, frustrated and enraged if they consider they can’t keep up with the Joneses’s – or the Kardashians’s.
Women are no different from men in this picture; actually, they are becoming the most affected collective by this unsettling trend, which already has a name: the Anger Epidemic. According to The Daily Mail online, “A startling 87 per cent of working mothers, for example, say that stress causes them to shout at their children, according to the British Association of Anger Management. And since 25 per cent report suffering stress on at least eight occasions each week, that’s an awful lot of yelling at home. It’s not much better at work. A quarter of us, we’re told, suffer serious office-rage, and regularly kick furniture, flip keyboards or slam down phone receivers in fury.”
An article by Mail Online about the feminine anger epidemic.
This is no surprise; feminism and the “women liberation movement” are yet to report any real benefits to us women and to our general well-being. For most of us poor, as soon as we reach adulthood the new society roles imply that we become little less than superheroines: we are literally to work as much and as efficiently as any man (a fact that, unfortunately, is not rewarded, generally speaking, with the same economic profit as most of our male peers,) while we are as well to undergo the strenuous processes of pregnancy and child rearing without any rest nor, in many cases, any extra help.
A lack of basic self-care provokes that many of us women feel undervalued, over-demanded and exploited, and this naturally leads to low self-esteem, frustration, and rage. To make things even worse, the old stereotypes coming from a paternalistic society prevail, adding to the burden the requirements to look unrealistically forever young, thin and perfect at all times. Many women cannot do it all and are forced to choose between a successful and demanding career and a marriage or a family of their own; a forceful choice which may lead to long-lasting grief, regrets, and frustration. With all this extra strain, anxiety and anger, competitiveness amongst us is exacerbated, and this ushers us to a greater sense of rivalry, mistrust, and aloneness.
A Wordpress post about the new gender roles, overburdened women and displaced men.
We are as a whole an impoverished, highly competitive, enraged society who has lost orientation and hates it all and doesn’t know what to do. This has also bred new archetypes, new discourses in contemporary fiction works. The new age heroines from books and movies are not sweet and meek princesses anymore but flawless, undaunting warriors; classy and extremely beautiful mercenaries dressed in fabulous attires and high-heel shoes; perfectly-shaped Terminators… role models that are absolutely unattainable for any human being, regardless of gender. One only has to think about Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games series; Merida from Brave, or Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones, just to name a few – beautiful women who are burdened with titanic quests no men, no army of men could ever fulfil on their own.
Men, on the other hand, have also lost their point of reference as regards their sense of identity and their masculine role, and the new male protagonists in movies and literature are gradually becoming superficial: the kind and clownish type of guys whose main weapons in life will consist of a sense of humour and a chilly attitude. This TED talk offered by Colin Stokes about gender identity in modern fiction explains this issue quite well:
Funnily enough, in spite of our hard-earned, well-deserved “privileged situation” as the strong and powerful women of the new era, which grants us our independence yet mercilessly demands that we become inhumanely tough, there has been a massive feminine reaction that counteracts this phenomenon concerning this new feminine identity. The shocking success of 50 Shades of Grey and other works of literature that actually idolise women’s total submissiveness to a man in power is proof of that. The beautiful songs from Lana Del Rey talking about men completely owning the heart and destiny of a woman, her lyrics about emotional and even physical survival in the hands of these men are other examples. But this submissiveness is not healthy either, nor does it promote women’s well-being: it is also aggressive, abusive, suicidal, and definitely angered.
It is very likely that this problem, this anger epidemic will worsen in the future: the overpowering promotion of narcissism by social media, together with the permanent, debilitating rage and stress that the new generation of mothers are undergoing full time is just going to leave very little space for children to grow up without being permanently scared, overburdened, and enraged during their growth as well as young adults.
If we don't do anything soon, we can for sure expect many more Vester Lee Flanagans and Andreas Günter Lubitzs in the near future.
In spite of all that, it is our duty to try and lead a life as constructively as possible, and the first step will be to become highly educated in emotional management, particularly as regards RAGE.
This will involve understanding our rage and also acknowledging the rage of others, and knowing how to act accordingly – beyond the typical social ostracism that will only make matters worse and far more dangerous.
I’m not a Psychologist – so far I’ve just finished a course of Psychological First Aid (PFA) and another one about Positive Psychology by Dr. Barbara Friedrickson. But I know by experience how it feels to try and be this superwoman we all new age women are required to be, and be eventually defeated by such an insurmountable task, overcome by stress, anxiety and anger. I am an advocate for an education that will allow all human beings to have power over their circumstances and emotions, and I would like to share here a few basic and simple tips that I have learned over time about emotional intelligence and anger management, and which have helped me greatly:
1) Whenever you feel overcome by anger or depression, check your health first and foremost.
Not long ago I was seriously stricken by a severe phase of burnout syndrome. It has been the most horrible experience in my life so far. Everything was just fine concerning my work, my family and my marriage, yet I was feeling panicky, insecure and extremely desolate most of the time. And enraged. I didn't feel myself at all, and I was appalled, yet I didn’t know what to do to improve my situation.
My GP diagnosed me with depression and told me to consider the possibility to take some anxiety medication. Fortunately, I decided to visit another doctor first, before following his advice, otherwise well-meant and sound. This second doctor found out that I was suffering from a thyroid malfunction, as well as from some other hormonal imbalances which were causing all the emotional and physical symptoms that were afflicting me. Not even a week had passed after starting the appropriate thyroid treatment that I was fully back to my normal self.
It was so definitive that it still amazes me… I experienced fist-hand to what an extent we are oblivious about the true nature of our moods and emotions, depending on how our body is functioning. That’s why now, when I see news like the ones from Virginia and Germanwings or even the shootings at Charleston or at schools, I cannot but wonder how many of these individuals, these heartless killers, were seriously sick organically, instead of merely psychologically, or that some hidden health problem could have contributed to their emotional distress, unbeknownst to themselves and to the people who were related to them. Perhaps some of these terrible losses could have been prevented with a correct diagnosis?
As I told Ernest Peña during his podcast, I once had a friend who one day, out of the blue, poisoned my food. I have some food-related allergies, and she simply put the allergen in my food one day, just to see what happened next. It was midday, and right after the "meal", which took place at her house, my mother called me and told me my father was in hospital. I left for the hospital at once, and she let me go all alone in the streets, saying nothing. I could have felt sick and be hit by a car; I could have fainted in the middle of the streets, whatever. When I arrived home later on, I felt really bad to my stomach and was sick, and I assumed it must all be stress-related, because of the bad news about my father. Few hours later after our meeting, this woman called me and asked specifically if I was feeling fine. As she had seen me before feeling upset for my father, I thought she was referring to my emotional state. I told her I was fine, and spent about two days 'fasting' and taking little more than lemon water to cleanse my gut. Fortunately enough, my allergy is not deadly, otherwise I would not be here blogging now. But she really could have killed me... and I would have never known what she did to me if she hadn't told me herself. Right in the middle of a small lunch party on the day of my 30th birthday, this woman told triumphantly that I was not really food-allergic because she had spiked my food with the allergen and then I told her I was fine, hours later. Imagine my party, my birthday, my everything. It was just crazy. Besides, she was just confessing because I had told her I was fine; otherwise, she would have been very careful to shut her mouth. I could have even sued her for what she did. I became far more distrustful of people after this event, for years.
I have thought a lot about what the hell could have passed through this woman's brain that day. She was one of my best friends and even my parents considered her one more in the family. This was an absurd and dangerous thing to do, for both. I could have died; she could have gone to jail. She was so delusional she didn't even understand why I cut all contact with her. Now, after my thyroid problem and knowing how it affected my levels of energy and my emotional state, I automatically remembered that this woman suffered from some serious health issues, all of them related to a very bad car crash she had been in as a child. During the accident she lost her spleen, a few tendons in one of her legs, and other apparently non-vital organs. I can't know it for real and probably never will, but now I wonder if the lack or malfunction of these organs could have contributed to her irrational, aggressive behaviour: perhaps she was never told by the doctors how to take proper care of her health after the car accident, and this lack of self-care eventually affected her personality. Or perhaps, who knows, I'm just trying to console myself, to justify somehow what happened to me, and she was indeed a genuinely crazy gal suffering from a very nasty Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome -- something much more horrific to encounter in your daily life than an unfortunate, sick person.
Thinking about it all makes me so sad… but I cannot help but reinforce this idea to check your organic health first and foremost when suffering from bouts of aggression or depressive symptoms. Besides, it might sound a little bit of a commonplace advice perchance, but taking up a healthier lifestyle, reducing stress, improving our eating habits, doing physical exercise and staying in the sunlight for a while every day might be a good starting point or even the solution in many mild cases of depression, anger issues or discomfort. Maybe too many drugs are prescribed for depression and anxiety by default, and we might rather address other organic possibilities first. Who knows, we could even save some lives with that.
2) Don’t face things all alone – seek support and understanding from others.
When I think about which individual I consider to be the most dangerous between Vester Flanagan and Andreas Lubitz, I would say without any doubt that the second one. With his belligerent attitude, Flanagan spent a long time filing complains that actually look like warnings and shouts for help. On the other hand, Lubitz’s actions were more deadly and deliberate as regards the number of people involved; more filled with an absolute, completely gratuitous sense of rage towards any human being whatsoever who was inside that plane, that day. He was focused only on grabbing hold of his dream, and if the world was to deny him the accomplishment of his dream everything could blow into pieces for all he cared.
And it was Lubitz, from these two individuals, who was considered kind and good company.
Apparently, under this amiable façade he was like a walking automaton, merely following the social conventions while hell burnt deep inside his spirit, secretly, probably feeling nothing else apart from that cold and burning rage. Flanagan had a negative connection with other human beings, yet Lubitz was completely disconnected from everybody else, even his own family. Therefore, it is crucial to seek a connection, a communication with our peers before reaching this point.
Nevertheless, it has to be positive support: it is scary how many websites and forums one can find on the Internet in which people speak about validating “a man’s right” to beat his wife up, or to promote hatred against homosexuals or any other racial groups. Negative support is a quick and easy reward for the wounded ego of these individuals, because one meets people who think like you do; but it is also a sure way to justify your hatred even more and even encourage acting out, with all its consequences.
The same goes with books or any other different works of art which, as Oscar Wilde pointed out, are not pernicious in themselves, but the minds of the spectators. It is great to listen to Marilyn Manson or Alabama 3, for example, whenever they serve as a healthy catharsis. My husband’s preference in this aspect is horror and war movies: the darker they are, the more relaxed he feels after watching them. He also really enjoys reading the complete works by Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft. I remember a time in my life, after a very bad breakup, in which I felt so much better every time I watched the whole series of Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2 by Quentin Tarantino. 'The Bride' is a beautiful, archetypal goddess of the feminine rage. Nowadays, whenever my husband and I argue, if I need to or feel like to I listen to Lana Del Rey, Sôber, Savia, Skizoo or Johnny Cash, amongst others. Darkness, when expressed as a form of art, can be a really powerful form of understanding, emotional release and subsequent healing. But if one feels that a book, movie or song makes you feel worse instead of better after reading, watching or listening to it, it is time to realise it would be better to stop consuming this type of material.
3) Forget about righteousness.
Vester Lee Flanagan committed his crime, according to his own words, out of a sense or righteousness: from his black-or-white point of view, he was 'the goody' and the rest of the world were 'the baddies'. Many crimes have been committed in the history of humanity out of a sense of righteousness, and yet it is still to happen that any of those crimes whatsoever have reaped any positive outcome, but rather the other way round.
For the angry person, righteousness is the ultimate self-destruction weapon, since a feeling of being wronged and deserving a retribution may lead a person to carry out actions that he would never have dared to consider otherwise. When something unjust happens to us, it is very tempting to our bothered egos to believe that we are the emissaries of Divine Karma or the lawful paladins of God’s Commandments, but it never works this way.
For instance, Flanagan didn’t help at all to support, with his dreadful take on “activism”, the black or gay communities, but rather strongly prejudiced them; so no thank you at all after such a deed! It is really stupid to play Alexandre Duma's Count of Monte Cristo and believe we have a right to our hatred and revenge because we have been victims – or we believe so – and we possess higher moral standards. Sadly enough, righteousness is a very sure backfire, for it breeds and feeds an incredible amount of anger that will be lashed out, almost sure, on our loved ones or on other innocent people rather than on the real offenders. And if we have been offended, or mistreated, or taken advantage of, or exploited… who cares? The best one can do is move on and look for greener pastures. I can’t believe how many times in my life I have been rejected or mistreated by people, even by some institutions, and it truly broke my heart when it happened; but later on I realised that these people or institutions were in fact hindering my progress. Rather than thinking about these rejections with contempt and resentment, I honestly do thank them now, for it was thanks to them that moved on towards my future jobs and even meeting my husband.
4) In the last instance, leave.
If you feel possessed by rage or depression and you have cared to check that it truly was not related to an underlying health issue, you are all alone and the people around you don’t support you, and you can’t think of any other motive to keep on living but your hatred, simply leave for something new. Why not? Both Vester Lee Flanagan and Andreas Lubitz were feeling suicidal and homicidal because of the loss of their dreamed jobs. It is so horribly sad, because they were just that: jobs. You just have one life, and it is valuable, and it could be a very worthy contribution in many parts of the world.
Perhaps when one reaches this point it is time to consider leaving for other countries in need, in order to discover a new and better purpose in life. There are so many positive things to do for the world, and there is so little help available… one could become an activist, or travel anywhere new where to be useful and appreciated, leaving behind all past frustrations. Who knows what our destiny could be, or our true purpose in life. In any case, it is always much better to keep on trying, once and again and again, until we find that very place where we truly belong, rather than simply give in to senseless and murderous rage.
5) If, despite all, everything keeps on being sheer hell, just go Mooji.
I remember one time in my life, before I finished my studies, that I felt very deeply, and painfully, that I was not succeeding in creating the professional and personal profile that I wanted; the identity which would allow me to fully develop my potential. I went though rejection, delays, lack of appreciation. It was a very difficult time in my life, and I perceived that the external circumstances were very unfair to me. This was even prior to the global economic crisis, and everybody around me seemed to be successful, and amusing themselves in a land of opportunities... everybody but me.
I just needed some time and a little change of surroundings to find my true place, but at that moment everything looked just stuck and disheartening. That's when I found Mooji's videos on YouTube, which are a pure delight. He speaks about not identifying with your personal circumstances, even your own name, because you are far more than simply that. Your identity, your surroundings are not a cage, although we usually believe them to be so. If we are really struggling to make things work and in spite of all we keep on failing, and our life looks like a gloomy cul-de-sac, why keep on torturing ourselves in such a way, why spoiling and wasting our lives like that? It is time to detach from what we have ever believed to be and what we programmed ourselves to want. We are slaves to no one and nothing: nor to our ideas, nor to our nightmares, nor even to our most cherished dreams and ambitions.
Once I started feeling better from my thyroid problem, I also began to be increasingly aware of the bigger picture. I realised that most of the people in my surroundings, when they lashed out at me or were impolite, were also dealing with their own anger issues. I used to take things very personally before; now I have learned to respect other people’s anger: that is, instead of judging them for their behaviour and holding resentments, now I see that they just cannot do any better. This is a post-crisis new world and we are all possessed by rage, desperate, depressive and who knows who is even feeling silently suicidal; but in spite of it all, we really need to understand the people around us, to seek a healthy connection with each other. That’s who we are, and that’s the context in which we live, and we are to learn to love each other, care about each other, in spite of the difficulties… in spite of the anger that consumes us all.
Text created for Ernest Peña's podcast. By María Concepción Pomar Rosselló