I am sure you’ve reflected on the tragic shootings that took place at an ordinary cinema in Aurora, Colorado last week. I used to live in Aurora, not ten minutes from that theatre. It’s a little freaky to think about it.
There are probably dozens of lessons to be learned from this homicide, but I’d like to focus on just one. James Eagen Holmes, the suspect, had become a loner. He went from a “few friends” while a teen in San Diego, to fewer friends as an undergraduate at U.C. Riverside, and then virtually nobody after he moved to Colorado. The New York Times reports: “Mr. Holmes struggled through his first academic year at the University of Colorado, Denver, and had dropped out by this spring. Neighbors from his gang-ridden neighborhood in Aurora described him as a solitary figure, recognizable as one of the few white residents of a largely Hispanic neighborhood, and always alone. Alone as he bought beer and liquor at neighborhood shops, as he ate burritos at La California restaurant or got his car fixed at the Grease Monkey auto shop. Alone as he rode his bicycle through the streets.”
We become vulnerable to unhealthy thoughts and habits when we’re disconnected from people around us. We are created to be social creatures, living in cooperation with each other, interdependent on one another; both giving and receiving from others. We’re most fulfilled when we “know” and “are known” by a close circle of people. To be “social” means to be accountable. In fact, we call crime “anti-social behavior.” That’s exactly what it is.
British anthropologist Robin Dunbar suggests that an average human can maintain a network of relationships containing about 150 people. Dunbar says that as people age, their social circle diminishes. As kids in school, we have lots of peers in our lives. Then, after graduation, the number of relationships we require begins to wane. The labor required to cultivate close relationships doesn’t seem worth it, so the number of close friends lowers to double digits. Depending on your personality, you may or may not feel you even need lots of people in our life to feel satisfied. Usually, it’s far less when we’re older. Personally, I’ve found I must schedule time with three of my closest friends; I plan time to meet with an accountability partner who asks me hard questions about my personal life, my wife and family, my travel schedule, my habits and my growth. I invite that. I need it to stay healthy.
There are loads of lessons to be learned from the Aurora tragedy, but I’m reminded of one simple takeaway. Keep people around me who keep me real and accountable; people who ask me questions I may avoid answering in my personal life and who support my growth and even guide me into the person I want to become. Sadly for James Holmes—that’s going to have to happen from a prison cell.