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Tenth Anniversary of the Columbine Shooting

by Izzy Kalman May 7, 2009 Psychology Today Blog, A Psychological Solution to Bullying

I’m sending this blog entry a couple of weeks after the 10th anniversary of the Columbine shooting. That date–April 20–is important to me because the Columbine shooting was the event that made me realize my mission to teach the world a better way to understand and deal with the problem of bullying. I never expected this mission to be such a difficult one, and so far I have been far from successful. Even though schools are actually the safest place for kids to be, far safer than their own homes, the anti-bully witch-hunt has been so phenomenally successful that bullying in school has become the biggest fear of parents. In the weeks since the Columbine Anniversary, the media has bombarded us with horrible stories about victims of bullying taking their own lives, causing the public to continue growing in fear and loathing of bullies.

Though I was hoping to have something earth shattering to write for the 10th Columbine Anniversary, I ran into writer’s block. How can I write something meaningful that I haven’t already written ad nauseum? I have been warning for ten years about the mistake of targeting bullies, and documenting the harm the anti-bully movement is causing to our children, schools and society. Still, the anti-bully bulldozer forges ahead full speed. 40 of our 50 states now have school anti-bully laws, and no one wants to consider the possibility that increased anti-bullying efforts may be responsible for the increased bullying in schools. I feel like I am beating a dead horse.

As most of you are aware, Columbine launched the modern world’s war against bullies. Our experts concluded that since the great majority of school shootings are perpetrated by victims of bullying, we need to get rid of bullies. If we can only make bullies disappear, no kids will be victims, and no one will have any motivation to shoot up their schools. So with ten years of massive anti-bully education, why is bullying becoming a more intensive problem? Why isn’t it going down?

In case you have been oblivious to recent news, the month-and-a-half period preceding the 10th Columbine anniversary had more high profile mass shootings than any six-week period in history. The most horrific took place in the city of Binghamton, New York, where my own son happens to go to college. Without exception, every one of these shootings was committed by someone feeling like a victim…of their ex-spouse, of their boss, of other students, of the economy. Why are so many people going on angry shooting rampages?

Of course the following cannot be the only explanation for these shootings, because each shooter has his own history, constitution and motives, but the massive anti-bully education we have been getting since Columbine can only have served to contribute to people’s anger towards, and desire for revenge against, their perceived bullies. After years of hearing endlessly that bullies are incredibly dangerous, that bullies shouldn’t be tolerated, that bullies should be punished and expelled, and that society must protect us from bullies, is it any wonder that some of us eventually crack when society fails to protect us from bullies, and pick up guns to solve our problems once and for all?

(Before I continue, I must ask you to please refrain from making the ridiculous complaint that I am “pro-bully” and “anti-victim.” No one cares about victims more than I do. But “bully” and “victim” are not objective diagnoses. They are subjective experiences. We are all bullies and victims. It just depends whose point of view we are looking from. Whenever we are angry at people, we feel we are their victims, but they are likely to feel we are their bullies.)

Amazingly, no matter how many events are screaming in our faces, “PEOPLE WHO COMMIT HORRIFIC ACTS FEEL LIKE VICTIMS,” we refuse to get the message and intensify our campaign against bullies. Even though Columbine woke up the modern world to the plight of victims of bullying, since Eric Harris and Dylan Klebald so dramatically portrayed themselves as victims, there has been a strong–and blazingly successful–attempt to re-characterize the Columbine killers as bullies rather than victims. There is a good chance you happened across the following news story, which the media bombarded us with in honor of the tenth Columbine anniversary, informing the world that the Columbine killers were not victims at all, but bullies.….

The anti-bully establishment couldn’t have been happier with this story. The idea that Harris and Klebald are victims has been a thorn in the side of the anti-bully movement. Victims are supposed to be saintly innocents who need protection, and bullies are supposed to be cold, cowardly psychopaths who pick on the weak. But how can victims be angelic when they can commit horrific school shootings? What a relief, then, to discover that these monsters were after all, bullies, and not victims. With this new characterization of the Columbine killers as bullies, we can continue on our anti-bully witch hunt unencumbered by doubt.

The article talks about a new book, Columbine, by Dave Cullen. The book paints the Columbine killers as full of rage; paranoid; cold-blooded, predatory psychopaths; and super-terrorists. This sure makes them sound like bullies.

But paranoia is not a bully feeling. Paranoia, the feeling that everyone is against us, is the ultimate victim feeling. Being a psychopath and feeling like a victim are not mutually exclusive. If a psychopath feels victimized by you, you had better watch out!

Rage is not a bully feeling; we go into a rage when we feel victimized.

Terrorists feel like victims; they want revenge against the great powers that have victimized their people.

No one commits mass shootings and then turns their guns on themselves because they want to bully people. They do it but because they feel like victims. (Again, I am not “anti-victim.” The bullies and victims are us, and we are most dangerous when we feel like victims.)

The article says about this new book:

It’s a portrait of Harris and Klebold as a sort of In Cold Blood criminal duo — a deeply disturbed, suicidal pair who over more than a year psyched each other up for an Oklahoma City-style terrorist bombing, an apolitical, over-the-top revenge fantasy against years of snubs, slights and cruelties, real and imagined.

“Revenge fantasy against years of snubs, slights and cruelties, real and imagined.” Is this the thinking of people who feel like a bullies or victims?

By the way, have you read the terrific book, In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote? It contains the psychiatrist’s lengthy description of Perry Edward Smith, the member of the pair of robbers who committed the horrific killings. It is a perfect depiction of a person with a victim mentality.

The article goes on to say about Eric Harris:

One of Harris’ last journal entries read: “I hate you people for leaving me out of so many fun things. And no don’t … say, ‘Well that’s your fault,’ because it isn’t, you people had my phone #, and I asked and all, but no. No no no don’t let the weird-looking Eric KID come along.”

Are these the words of someone who feels like a bully or a victim?

It says about Dylan Klebald:

Klebold, on the other hand, was anxious and lovelorn, summing up his life at one point in his journal as “the most miserable existence in the history of time.”


Klebold also was paranoid. “I have always been hated, by everyone and everything,” he wrote.

Are these descriptions of someone who feels like a bully or a victim?

The article says:

The U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Education Department soon began studying school shooters. In 2002, researchers presented their first findings: School shooters, they said, followed no set profile, but most were depressed and felt persecuted.

“Felt persecuted.” Bully feeling or victim feeling?

How many shootings will it take before we learn that we are most dangerous not when we feel like bullies but when we feel like victims? Will we never learn?

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