The Cultural Roots of Loneliness and Violence

Loneliness and violence can harm anyone’s life. The night before he killed himself and 6 other people, one of whom he stabbed 94 times. The 22-year-old Elliot Rodgers said, “Tomorrow is the day of retribution. The day in which I will have my revenge against humanity, against all of you [because] for the last eight years of my life … I have been forced to endure an existence of loneliness … I’ve had to rot in bleak and sad loneliness all these years.”

Boys and young men tell that they feel lonely and that such feelings can lead to suicidal ideas and violent actions. Rates of reported loneliness, suicide, and mass violence, in fact, have increased dramatically. Generation Z, in fact, is the loneliest of all, with 60% of boys and girls reporting that they feel “left out or isolated from others.” Suicide rates have also increased, with a rise of 33% nationwide since 1999, especially among young adults. While girls have always been more likely to attempt suicide than boys, boys have always been more likely to die from suicide as well. The suicide rates among black boys, in the U.S., have increased 73% from 1991 to 2017.

As a psychology professor who has been conducting mixed method research for over three decades, says, ”I have learned the answers to these questions by listening to young people themselves. What boys and young men have taught me is that there is a clash between the culture in which they are raised and their nature, which is to want and need close friendships, including with their male peers.”

”As they reach middle to late adolescence and the cultural expectations of manhood that dismiss and demean that desire intensify, their social and emotional needs go unmet. Adam, one of the boys in my studies, says at the age of 16, it might be nice to be a girl because then I wouldn’t have to be emotionless,” he said.

Our interview-based research with boys from early to late adolescence starkly reveals the clash between culture and nature. When asked to describe his best friend, Justin, at age 14, says: “My best friend and I love each other … that’s it … You have this thing that is deep, so deep, it’s within you, you can’t explain it … I guess in life, sometimes two people can really, really understand each other and really have a trust, respect, and love for each other. It just happens. It’s human nature.”

Jason, at 15 years old, says: “My ideal best friend is a close, close friend who I could say anything to … ’cause sometimes you need to spill your heart out to somebody and if there’s nobody there, then you gonna keep it inside, then you will have anger. So, you need somebody to talk to always.”

When asked what changed about his friendships since his high school, Justin, in his senior year of high school, says: “I don’t know, maybe, not a lot, but I guess that best friends become close friends. So that’s basically the only thing that changed. It’s like best friends become close friends, close friends become general friends, and then general friends become acquaintances. So, they just … if there’s distance whether it’s, I don’t know, natural or whatever. You can say that but it just happens that way.”

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