"Crime procedurals, like 'CSI' or 'Law & Order,' indexed highest among all genres of programming, retaining 95% of their viewers through all commercial breaks during the hour." (In other words, the audience stays glued to the tube through bathroom breaks.) --------------------- I wrote the following in April 2007, just after the Virginia Tech shooting. Here we are again, and again and again. The names and numbers change, the location changes. What else? What are the commonalities? What is setting off such rage, disregard for life and lack of compassion for self and others? The first question of the monthly meeting I led for ten years for those with chronic pain was always, "How are you today, and we really want to know?" How many times have we heard that question with the silent tag lines: But only tell me if you're feeling fine. But don't bother with details. Hey, there's a line of people with groceries behind you; I didn't mean for you to tell me. Some say that what makes humans different from other species is our emotions. Disregarding evidence that other animals do feel, why is it, then, that our mental state is so often the most ignored priority of functioning? Today we accept that emotions at Virginia Tech are running high and visible. Yet, a month from now some will expect the campus community of students, faculty and staff to have moved on. Some will want them to spout gratitude for lessons learned as a result of the tragedy. It's good to derive lessons from our challenges. We can take pride and be grateful to those who help us choose to create positive outcomes from adversity. Faith in a benevolent and compassionate God may provide encouragement and strength, and earth-angels in our lives -- family, friends, peers -- can hold and support us, but gratitude for harrowing events in one's life should not be required. Even with revamping of one's life into a kinder, sympathetic environment, survivors of the Columbine incident and their families will attest that, in time, memories and wounds become more manageable but are not eradicated nor embraced. When common, everyday feelings are seldom talked about within families, among peers or, heaven forbid in business settings, we can predict that it will be more difficult to confide deep emotions following traumatic circumstances. In normal times, joy, pleasure, love, affection, satisfaction, courage are usually acceptable if expressed in moderation. Yet, sadness, loss, grief, depression, fear, insecurity, displeasure or frustration are tolerated within limits of time and degree. Society expects denial, repression and suppression of intense emotions, especially of sentiments deemed negative. Crossing the line brings scorn and rejection from others: "Snap out of it. Buck up. You're just too sensitive. Don't be a downer. What's wrong with you? Maybe if you just didn't think about it so much. You should be over that by now." The dangerous emotional condition of the young man who took the lives of thirty-three people at Virginia Tech escaped detection so many times because American culture has refused to take seriously the significance of feelings. The message delivered is that feelings should not interfere with work, school or social interactions. Emotional alienation is common and preferred of someone who might disrupt the stoic norm. The student's inappropriate behaviors were, at times, ignored; tolerated; dismissed; accommodated; reprimanded and finally assessed. But, the etiology was not investigated. Underlying causes went undetermined. Treatment was temporary and unimposed. Depression is the inward expression of hurt, sadness and self-loathing. Rage is the outward expression of the same emotions. Unfortunately, the young man was in the most difficult years of a person's life. Body changes, raging hormones, competition and impending adult responsibilities wreak havoc on today's youth as never before. The complexity of their lives boggles the mind. This man-child had the added complication of immigrating from another country. Suicide and dangerous behavior are rampant and under-reported among 15-24 year olds. Without lasting and committed intervention, the he acted upon both urges to the fullest degree, killing innocent bystanders and himself. [At the time] little was known about the student, but often, rebellious, disassociated youth look to television, movies and computer games for role models. In today's pop-culture, they find anger; lust; jealousy; vengeance; degradation; cruelty; rage; and resentment dramatized in the extreme. Where are our role models with qualities of integrity, courage and wisdom? Where can we learn about healthy parent/child, teacher/student and peer to peer interaction? Where are our true heroes? What we find in the media are primarily adults who lie, cheat, betray the innocent and dishonor their families, profession and community. Good news is rare and overshadowed by sensationalized celebrity falls from grace. Each week, television crime shows try to outdo the horror, gore and mutilation of their competitors. Perpetrators may be portrayed as the villain, but he or she plays a starring role, and to capture or conquer the fiend requires danger, violence and bloodshed. Feelings most of us disapprove of in ourselves and those around us are said to be desired viewing by a large segment of society as demonstrated by what the industry calls "audience constancy." Variety.com reports, "The durable crime-and-punishment genre, a staple of primetime television for more than a decade, sees the highest retention of viewers during commercials, according to a study of commercial ratings by Magna Global." "Crime procedurals, like 'CSI' or 'Law & Order,' indexed highest among all genres of programming, retaining 95% of their viewers through all commercial breaks during the hour." (In other words, the audience stays glued to the tube through bathroom breaks.) "'All of these factors give a procedural drama an advantage going forward,' said CBS research prexy David Poltrack, who is in the process of rating shows to determine which will return next fall." Yet, when ABC asked if the video and pictures sent to NBC by the killer (perpetrator's name withheld by the author of this column) of thirty-three people at Virginia Tech should have been aired by the networks, two out of three responders said no. More specifically, they chose the answer, "No. The media are glorifying [the guilty party], and the video opens up the door to copycats." The objection has been born out in an epidemic of threats of violence and the follow-through of at least one incident of two people killed, including the gunman. Schools and colleges in 28 states have been evacuated or locked down. In some cases weapons have been found. In 1999, the National Mental Health Awareness Campaign was launched as a nationwide nonpartisan public education movement initiated by the White House Conference on Mental Health. "We are dedicated to battling the stigma, shame, and myths surrounding mental disorders that prevent so many people from getting the help they need." Despite backing by numerous celebrities, including Mike Wallace, William Styron, Art Buchwald, Lorraine Bracco and numerous others, progress is slow in coming. Psychological or psychiatric therapy and even support group participation is often judged as negative for one's image. Personal standing among friends, family, one's faith community or workplace may be threatened. In addition, assessment and treatment are cost prohibitive to the majority of the population. What was once available was inadequate to keep up with the growing need. In recent years funding for services has been slashed. Many who once resided in mental institutions for their and our safety now receive the "treat and street" protocol. If how we feel were something people really wanted to know, and were taken seriously, the mental state of healthy individuals would be enhanced and the state of troubled individuals would be a known concern, eliciting compassion, caution and intervention. Mike Farrell, best known as the actor, BJ Hunnicut on the television series "M*A*S*H" and veterinarian Jim Hansen on "Providence," is also characterized as an indefatigable activist and humanitarian. I set aside his new autobiography, "Just Call Me Mike" to write this column, and Mike kindly offers the following comment on the sad events of this week. "With regard to the tragedy in Virginia, my heart aches for all: the victims, their heart-broken loved ones, the survivors and those in positions of authority at the school will all be left with trauma. And I don't want to leave out of the equation my sorrow for the mental and emotional pain suffered by the young man who wreaked this horror and for his family, all of whom will suffer as a result." "What we as a society have to learn from this, aside from the obvious question of access to murderous weaponry, is the responsibility we have to detect problems with and take care of those among us in psychological and emotional distress before these kinds of explosions take place." – Mike Farrell, April, 2007. Open and accepted communication about our feelings would go a long way in preventing tragedies of violence. The next time someone asks how you feel dare to tell them.