The Shipwreck of Institutional Betrayal: Why Individuals Self-Harm & Harm-Others
The Background: Bullying, Suicides, & School Shootings
The desire to harm. Why do individuals–like you and me–gain some visceral urge to inflict pain upon themselves or on others? We aren’t born with it. To harm yourself and to harm others lie in completely different arenas, don’t they? Our hearts throb with regret for victims of suicide, yet our fists clench with anger at perpetrators of school shootings. These emotions are indeed what we should feel: it’s part of human nature. However, for a more mature outlook, our emotional instincts require critical thinking and research. From this analysis, we can confidently conclude that the desire to harm emerges from immense pain and a loss of hope.
This article will shine light upon two individuals– one which we will pity, and the other which we will hate. Mya Rios’ story leaves us in tears: she was a high achieving ninth-grade student at Harry S. Truman High School who took her own life at fifteen years old. “She had so many plans. She wanted to go to college,” were her father’s words following her passing. The other individual we will examine is Nik Cruz, a recent graduate who returned to his high school in Parkland, Florida, and pulled the trigger on his former classmates and teachers.
Placing Mya’s tragedy and Nik’s crime in the same boat may appall you. We resent Nik for taking the lives of 17 innocent children while we pour our hearts out to Mya with sorrow. But looking back, both teens faced the shipwreck of institutional betrayal: they were victims of a system that failed them. Both were bullied, and both were ignored.
To fully understand what drives children to harm themselves or others, it is important to examine their journeys as victims and/or offenders. Bullying may leave only minor scratches at the beginning, but the school’s failure to hold offenders accountable infects the wound further and further. Through three stages, the bullying increases in severity, and the victim is scarred by indifference and a breach of trust. This progression leaves resentment to fester with hatred, anger, and despair. Eventually, this floods one’s conscience with anguish and dejection.
Stage 1: Where It All Begins
It all starts with seemingly insignificant events. Maybe it began with weekly offensive comments or sly jokes. In Mya’s case, her peers tormented her for a period of five months, calling her names and making fun of her body. She first reported it to the school counselor, who assured her that she would investigate the claims. But instead, her complaint was ignored; no investigation ever occurred. Nik Cruz had been harassed since early middle school, and this continued for six years. He was “mocked and ridiculed” for his “odd,” yet harmless behavior. Like Mya, Nik complained and his reports were minimized and dismissed.