What could a nihilistic school shooter and an underachieving teenager possibly teach us? To be brief: you shouldn’t try to fix the world until you’ve learned to fix yourself.
Eric Harris was “a bright young man likely to succeed in life”, according to his teachers, yet he still killed 13 people right before committing suicide at age 18. He hated the world for sucking so much and felt like society needed a boost, so he shot up Columbine High School as an act of natural selection.
Eric had a rough time fitting in at school, so he coped by convincing himself that he was a god. He disregarded everything people said about his flaws because he’d already deemed them too dumb to know anything of value. He assumed that the people who disliked him simply lied to themselves and should all be killed off. In his mind, he did society a favor by discarding its dregs. Although he hated people who thought they could play God, he was okay with doing it because, in his opinion, there was no one better.
Holden Caulfield, J.D. Salinger’s antihero in The Catcher in the Rye, displayed less extreme cynicism (he didn’t want to kill anyone). In other words, Holden was so depressed, he lived in the passive voice of his own life. Most of the book takes place in his head because he was too obsessed with his past to take any action for his future.
While pessimism influenced Eric and Holden differently, it made them both arrogant hypocrites. Holden condemned everything, even himself, for being so fake. He was sad that his little brother died and thought that society churned out everyone’s childlike innocence and curiosity, so he didn’t try in school and spent his time criticizing his peers while doing the exact things he berated them for, which he recognized as “phoniness” and hated himself even more as a result. He didn’t take responsibility for anything in his life because he’d already decided that growing up would strip him of authenticity.
Holden and Eric shared the sentiment that “people are always ruining things for you” (98). Think of this next time you feel like bashing everyone around you for making your life suck. If you start thinking that everything’s always someone else’s fault (just like the nihilistic school shooter and underachieving teenager above), chances are: the problem is you. Don’t try to fix the world before you’ve learned to fix yourself.