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The Seattle Pacific University shooting and our masculine empathy problem

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.

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