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    The Seattle Pacific University shooting and our masculine empathy problem

    Transforming the culture of violence starts with empathy.

    Yesterday afternoon, a 26 year-old white male gunman shot 4 people at Seattle Pacific University, just minutes from where I am staying in northwest Seattle. One of the victims, a 19-year-old man, is dead. And another, a 19-year-old woman, is undergoing surgery for her gunshot wounds and remains in critical condition.

    The gunman has a history of police encounters, according to the Everett Herald, which cited a 2012 police report. When officers found him intoxicated and lying in the street in 2012, he told them he wanted the “SWAT team to get him and make him famous. (He) said no one cares about him. He said he wants to die.”

    This shooting comes less than two weeks after a guy named Elliot killed 6 students on the UC Santa Barbara Campus in California.

    Why do these shootings keep happening? A broken mental health system? Insufficient gun control? Misogyny? Entitlement? These are each clearly part of the puzzle. But they don’t explain what I believe is at the root of it all: Numbness, shame, unreleased tension, and loneliness — all passed down through our patriarchal culture of masculinity.

    Mark Manson wrote a post about the UC Santa Barbara shooting that got a lot of attention, in which he stated that the missing ingredient was empathy. The definition of empathy is: “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” It is only by doing our own work — by reconnecting with our own feelings — that we can learn to cultivate true empathy for others. As men, we rarely have any safe outlets for expressing our emotions. So it boils within us until it explodes.

    What will it take to transform this culture of violence? Men like me need to re-learn how to express our feelings in safe and healthy ways. We need to actively seek out and create positive spaces for the release of emotional tension — tears of sadness, fits of rage, fear and desperation, loss and loneliness, shame and guilt. We need to bring it all to the surface in healthy ways.

    This is men’s work. And it is literally life or death.

    It’s time we, as men, break through the facade of patriarchal masculinity and reclaim the feelings that are our birthright. Our bodies are not mere machines built to do the bidding of our minds. We are emotional beings. Sensual beings. Born fully capable of expressing what is in our hearts and caring for the feelings of those around us. And we are resilient; capable of feeling hurt, angry, sad, afraid, alone, ashamed, you name it — and bouncing back stronger than before.

    We don’t need to hide anymore. The world cannot afford our numbness any longer. It’s time we open our hearts and remember who we truly are.

    A version of this article originally appeared on the blog Wholehearted Masculine.

    Dan Mahle is a Seattle-based group facilitator, program coordinator and blogger. He designs and hosts community gatherings and leadership workshops in the Northwest. He is passionate about starting conversations that matter and creating open and honest spaces for inspiration and engagement around the topics of masculinity, vulnerability and wholehearted living. He enjoys finding new ways to push his boundaries in order to better leverage his skills and passions in service to the world.

    Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!


    Posted Fri, Jun 6, 2:46 p.m. Inappropriate

    "break through the facade of patriarchal masculinity and reclaim the feelings that are our birthright. "

    Do you need a hug?


    Posted Sun, Jun 8, 7:54 p.m. Inappropriate

    Thanks for your generous offer, Simon :)

    You seem to imply that my desire for men to reawaken emotional expression in our lives is a sign of weakness or emasculation. Is this what you believe? I'm just wanting to understand you better.

    And yeah, I'm always up for hugs. Givin em and getting em. Cheers, mate-


    Posted Fri, Jun 6, 3:31 p.m. Inappropriate

    I would agree with this article completely if you hadn't used so many cliche, overused, and frequently-misused buzzwords ("Patriarchal" - such a huge oversimplification, "misogyny" - another huge oversimplification, "entitlement" - 1.) You're going with the recent annoying trend of saying "entitlement" when you meant "feelings of entitlement" - to say someone is entitled means that they are, in fact, owed something, and 2.) This is always said by people who refuse to acknowledge that men have feelings too and that wanting something badly is not in any way the same thing as believing that you are entitled to it.

    But other than your egregious use/misuse of annoying buzzwords, I agree with this article.


    Posted Sun, Jun 8, 7:59 p.m. Inappropriate

    Howdy zOgster,

    Thanks for your reflections here. I'm interested to hear more about why you feel that using the term Patriarchal is an over-simplification? To me, it feels like the most accurate word I can use to describe the culture of masculinity that systematically robs us men of expressing our feelings (aside from anger and rage) in healthy and generative ways. But I'm open to learning something new...

    I think you're right about using "feelings of entitlement" rather than simply "entitlement" - that's a good observation and I've taken note. However, I'm afraid to say that I do not fit in your categorization of "people who refuse to acknowledge that men have feelings too..." in fact, that is exactly what I am pointing to in this article and in my work more broadly.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts-


    Posted Fri, Jun 6, 3:53 p.m. Inappropriate

    Dan, you misunderstood Manson's piece. He was saying we need empathy for potential shooters, not that the shooters need to "break through the facade of patriarchal masculinity."

    Posted Sun, Jun 8, 8:05 p.m. Inappropriate

    Hi kitschnsync,

    I am saying that - in order to REALLY offer support to potential shooters - we need to take a more systemic approach: while feeling empathy for them where they are now is important...it is not enough. We need to literally transform our culture of masculinity so that we stop creating the conditions that lead to explosively violent behaviors. To truly support men who are struggling with feeling isolated, unloved, and unseen, we need to build a culture that supports men in feeling seen, feeling connected, and expressing their feelings in safe and healthy ways. Only then can we ever hope to see an end to these shootings.


    Posted Fri, Jun 6, 6:32 p.m. Inappropriate

    There are few things along with empathy that many men have lost in the last generation or two that I think contribute to the current state of things. Strength, independance, respect, loyalty, honor, fortitude, work ethic, integrity, selflessness, patriotism and a stong sense of duty. Men today are very poorly portrayed in most facets of our society. What we are told to value is not what we really should be valuing. Rock hard abs, a fancy car, big screen TV and a trophy wife are not what it is all about guys. Reguardless of what TV and every single magazine on the rack tells you. We need better role models from a very young age to turn the tide.

    Posted Sun, Jun 8, 8:08 p.m. Inappropriate

    I totally agree that we need better role models. And, quite frankly, f*ck what the media tells us to be! I'm sick of it. For both men and women, and everyone. It's toxic. And it only holds power over us when we let it. We gotta stand up and take responsibility for who we are in the world; for who we are as men. And stop letting anyone else define us. That's the only way that this culture will ever change.

    In solidarity,


    Posted Fri, Jun 6, 6:57 p.m. Inappropriate

    The tales we hear about the shooters, is one of not being valued. Before a person can feel empathy or express it, they need to feel valued. Empathy is worthless to a person who feels they aren't valued. If they believe they have no value, you can bet that empathy is the least and last emotion on the humanity checklist, and it shows.


    Posted Sun, Jun 8, 4:12 p.m. Inappropriate

    Your comment is correct. Thank you for bringing this up. I think that most of these beserk killers went crazy because of not being valued in a society that considers people to be "human resources".


    Posted Sun, Jun 8, 8:15 p.m. Inappropriate

    Totally agree. The desire to feel seen, heard, and valued is the most fundamental human need. Our culture of masculinity (and our current "resource-based" global economy, for that matter - as jhande notes) is tearing us apart from our selves, each other, and the natural world we live in. As men growing up in this society, we are each faced with a choice: either we face the vulnerability of love and connection or we take on a bunch of armor to protect us from ever looking weak or being hurt. 99% of the men I've men chose the latter. And we're seeing the consequences in every area of our lives and our society.

    But now, we have an opportunity to choose something different, for ourselves and for the world. We can choose to reconnect with our feelings, to value ourselves, and to cultivate empathy. From that place, we can serve as role models to other men, including men who are about to explode, supporting them in their time of need. I don't believe that we can magically eradicate these types of shootings, but this is a damn good place to start.



    Posted Sat, Jun 7, 12:38 p.m. Inappropriate

    A "history of police encounters"? I just read another article that said "The document also notes that Ybarra had been arrested once for driving while intoxicated and that he has no prior convictions." (see http://crosscut.com/2014/06/06/law-justice/120440/seattle-pacific-university-shooting-mayor-responds/ )

    Which is it? I feel like this op-ed plays fast and loose with words to build a shoddy foundation upon which to built its argument.


    Posted Sun, Jun 8, 8:17 p.m. Inappropriate

    This is my source: http://heraldnet.com/article/20140606/NEWS01/140609493/SPU-shootings-suspect-sought-fame-through-violence

    You decide.


    Posted Sat, Jun 7, 2:05 p.m. Inappropriate

    Have any of you read Iron John by Robert Bly. It was instrumental in my growth from an angry, belligerent drunk & drug addict to one who can see the costs of his actions.



    Posted Sun, Jun 8, 8:18 p.m. Inappropriate

    Hey Honario,

    I've read part of it. Looking forward to reading more. So glad to hear about your healing journey, brother. It is inspiring to witness.

    In solidarity-


    Posted Sun, Jun 8, 4:07 p.m. Inappropriate

    This was an article of psychobabble.

    Also, Ybarra is a name of Basque origin. The PLU shooter is an hispanic/latino. Now, how is it that hispanic/latinos are considered "persons of color" most of the time; but when an hispanic/latino shoots someone they are called "white"? This occurred with George Zimmerman (the murderer of Trayvon Martin) as it does here. Zimmerman is an hispanic/latino, but was called "white" by the media.

    So, if hispanic/latinos are "white", then how is it that hispanic/latinos are also "persons of color"? The racial identity politics fanatics need to get their terminology consistant.

    This article was anti-male, anti-white, propaganda, and more than a little racist.


    Posted Sun, Jun 8, 8:16 p.m. Inappropriate

    I'd bet money that if this shooter heard anyone talk to him using the trendy feel good lingo in this article he would still have shot these people.

    The fact is, mental illness is the root of the problem, coupled by a society that seems to think it's ok to allow young children hours-on- end playing with violent games, watching violent TV and movies, and spending too much alone time (latch key kids, was this kid one?).

    Even girls are far more violent than in decades past. We've got a problem, Houston, and this kind of writing and description is condescending actually and won't solve one stinking bit of the problem rampant in the US today: "Misogyny? Entitlement? These are each clearly part of the puzzle. But they don’t explain what I believe is at the root of it all: Numbness, shame, unreleased tension, and loneliness — all passed down through our patriarchal culture of masculinity."

    Good god, get a grip.

    Posted Sun, Jun 8, 8:23 p.m. Inappropriate

    Hi common1sense,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I, for one, see a clear connection between "young children hours-on- end playing with violent games, watching violent TV and movies, and spending too much alone time..." and our toxic culture of masculinity. Don't you? Why do you think violence has become so normalized in our society?

    Our society teaches us to become numb to violence. I am inviting us to stop being numb. What's so condescending about that..



    Posted Tue, Jun 17, 7:27 p.m. Inappropriate

    'Why has violence become so normalized in our society?'

    Because personal and household standards and manners have dwindled, and the computer gaming industry and film industry looooovvvees those vacant minds who crave violence.


    We're not 'numb to violence'. We're numb to ethics, good manners, and teaching the value of hard work. We allow too much in every regard.

    Posted Sun, Jun 8, 8:30 p.m. Inappropriate

    I despise your trite phraseology. "Toxic culture of masculinity" etc.

    Ridiculous. What we all need to do is quit labeling and start thinking.

    Posted Sun, Jun 8, 11:15 p.m. Inappropriate

    Ok common1sense,

    I hear that the language I'm using is pissing you off. Interesting to notice. I don't give a shit about the language. I want to have the conversation. So, what are your thoughts?


    Posted Tue, Jun 17, 7:27 p.m. Inappropriate

    Swearing serves no purpose in a discussion such as this. Crude.

    Posted Mon, Jun 9, 6:53 a.m. Inappropriate

    Okay, the guy lived with his parents, and socialized with co-workers. He had a history of mental illness/alcohol abuse. Mental illness, pure and simple. Why all the teeth-gnashing a wailing? So, life sometimes sucks, even if you are a white male. Grow up.


    Posted Mon, Jun 9, 8:24 a.m. Inappropriate

    You can be empathetic with the hunger of a Grizzly Bear, but that doesn't mean you try to make him understand your desire to not be his lunch.

    Ybarra has a history of mental illness, and likely doesn't have much in the way of empathy for others. It isn't because of how he was treated as a kid, or whether or not his psyche was broken by cultural values - it is because of a physical problem with his brain chemistry or make-up. It can be mitigated with therapy and medication, but it is a chronic illness that can never really go away.

    Sometimes, who we truly are is a danger to others, and no amount of listening or hugging can change that.


    Posted Mon, Jun 9, 5:36 p.m. Inappropriate

    Boys are primarily raised and influenced by women well into their teen years and beyond. Masculine behaviors are often shaped by the media. the missing ingredient is male role models in real life. Until boys and girls see men in positive roles on a daily basis we leave a gap filled all to frequently be demons of one sort or another.


    Posted Mon, Jun 9, 10:58 p.m. Inappropriate

    Well said.


    Posted Tue, Jun 10, 6:37 a.m. Inappropriate

    Yes, and we have such healthy role models for girls like thew Kardashians, etc. There are plenty of positive rol modles for boys. This was a mental illness issue - the shooter lived with both parents. Not a navel-gazing issue.


    Posted Tue, Jun 10, 8:38 p.m. Inappropriate

    No doubt girls need positive female role-models, too. This society absolutely crushes girls and women with shame and insecurity.

    As for your position that this was "mental illness, pure and simple" (from your first comment above), I'd invite you to consider that the culture we live in may well compound the effects of some mental health conditions, making some folks - like this shooter - more prone to act out with extreme violence.

    That is the perspective posed in this article: http://crosscut.com/2014/05/30/op-ed/120312/our-indiviualist-society-breeds-violent-culture


    Posted Wed, Jun 11, 12:27 a.m. Inappropriate

    I object to language such as "Why do you think violence has become so normalized in our society?"

    How do we have any idea whether society was more or less violent? Like many others with an agenda, you assume facts unproven.

    Do we really have any way of knowing whether we are more or less sick, happy, unbalanced, etc etc now than 30, 50, 100, 200, 1000 etc etc years ago?

    We simply don't have the data. And the little data we do have -- e.g. slavery taken for granted, execution for stealing a loaf of bread, acceptance of rigid hierarchy, Roman gladiatorial games, public executions as a picnic event etc etc -- might suggest that people in the past were far more violent and mentally unfit then than now.

    Do we know, as an example, how many Rodgers and Ybarras there were in Virginia in 1800? With slavery for example it would be all covered up. You could kill a slave and nobody even noticed. Literally.

    I think that deciding whether it was "better" or "worse" is simply a personal choice. And you choose to go along with the crowd.

    Posted Thu, Jun 12, 5:56 a.m. Inappropriate

    Ah, society as a whole is probably much less violent - but you have a sizeable subset of younger men who seek out violence - look at all of the Jihadists - most of the "brawn" are young men looking to kill and be killed - Also inner city gangs. Life is cheap and killing is fun for them. Instead of striving to achieve and build they strive to commit mayhem.


    Posted Wed, Jun 11, 11:54 a.m. Inappropriate

    These guys are the bottom of the heap - they see their lives as one long cavalcade of being stepped on, by men and women. It isn't mere unexpressed feelings for which there is no safe outlet that are at the root of this issue (what balderdash!). It is poisonous resentment seeping into every fiber of their being, against the happy, the favored, the fortunate, and the attractive, who have only scorn, contempt, and pity for them.

    Posted Thu, Jun 12, 10:17 a.m. Inappropriate

    It's not necessarily indiviualism - young men without a strong positive belief system can tend to act out in this manner - they can do so as the lone gunman, or in a group like Weather Underground, Jihadists, or Hiltler Youth. They are nihilistic acts with sexual overtones too much testosterone not channeled toward positive action.


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