Aurora tragedy shows being ‘educated’ is not enough
By Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel
CHULA VISTA, California — The Aurora massacre ought to shock us out of our collective lethargy. Among the questions we are asking, we wonder: How can a young a brilliant medical student, who originally dedicated his life to helping people turn into a killing machine? What happened to his concern for humanity?
There is much we have yet to discover about James Holmes. In Kabbalistic terms, James Holmes illustrates what happens when the “shattering of the vessels” occurs in the soul. According to the Kabbalah, the light of the soul requires “vessels” to harbor its intensity. A mature person has learned to channel his/her energy and frustrations, whereas the immature individual expresses these life energies in an explosive manner—hence, the “shattering of the vessels.” This process can occur on both the collective and individual level. When a dictator like Hitler or others seize power, they create an intensity that overwhelms their people’s ethical sensibilities. The same occurs when the individual experiences a mental breakdown and no longer has the coping mechanisms to deal with pent-up frustrations and disappointments.
Mass murderers are in essence “souls of chaos” and not souls that create harmony in people’s lives.
Holmes’ inability to succeed in medical school and make a positive difference in the world was probably due to his poor coping skills. I have seen promising college students collapse from the pressure to succeed in school. Fortunately, most people in such situations will often go to a counselor, a therapist, or a psychiatrist and receive the proper medication or intervention strategy to channel their feelings of anger, rage and frustration.
I suspect that did not happen here.
Then again, some people simply don’t have a moral conscience because they are the products of a narcissistic culture; their families typically stress to their children that they must succeed in life, or they will end up as a “nobody.”
Holmes identified with the villain known as the “Joker.” Unlike other villains who seek power or money, in the Batman literature, the Joker is interested in creating one thing only: chaos and mayhem. It is a common attitude seen in many of the shooting incidents over the past generation. A dangerous psychotic has dreams of being famous, so he attacks innocents in order for his name to live on in infamy. The Joker–more than any other villain–personifies a soul that lives and thrives in chaos.
With respect to James Holmes, by all accounts, his teachers and professors considered Holmes to be a “brilliant student.” Yet, academic knowledge does not necessarily make a person an ethical human being.
History has shown otherwise.
In Teacher and Child, noted psychologist Haim Ginott includes a copy of a letter that a principal sent to his teachers at the beginning of each new school year. Heartfelt and genuine, the letter presents a most wonderful message that pertains to our contemporary dilemma today:
- Dear Teacher,
- I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no man should witness: Gas chambers built by learned engineers. Children poisoned by educated physicians. Infants killed by trained nurses. Women and babies shot and burned by high school and college graduates. So I am suspicious of education. My request is: Help your students become human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths, educated Eichmanns. Reading, writing, arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more human.
It is unfortunate that the philosophy of so many schools is to produce good students and not necessarily good human beings.
When the philosophy of success becomes summum bonum, young people who do not “succeed” are left feeling as though their lives have little or no redeeming value. Ethics offers a vision that can help raise self-esteem and teach young people the importance of acting considerately toward other people.
Perhaps the time has come for schools to incorporate ethics into their curriculum—beginning with Pre-K. Ethics need not have a religious underpinning; there are many outstanding non-theistic approaches to ethics that one could draw from in Western and Eastern thought systems. Cultivating empathy and sympathy ought to be at least as important as teaching language skills and arithmetic.
However, the world does depend upon people who treat life with sanctity.
Rabbi Samuel is spiritual leader of Temple Beth Sholom. He may be contacte at email@example.com
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