Knee Jerk

There any number of reasons why I tend to limit my ramblings in this space to things either: A) completely innocuous (WKRP quotes, football predictions, wrestling rants) or: B) exclusively personal (thoughts on acting, exploration of my own neurotic tendencies). However the main reason would have to be that I don’t enjoy getting other people riled up, particularly when it’s the direct result of misinterpreting something that was written. As a species we have a difficult enough time understanding motive and intent with verbal communication. The written word can be so ambiguous as to be extremely dangerous, a fact which has greatly contributed to both the popularity and vilification of the web and its many bloggers. So it is with all that in mind that I tread into this next post with much trepidation. In fact, if you’re one of those people who finds themselves easily inflamed by somebody else’s world views, perhaps you shouldn’t read any further. Mind you, I don’t *intend* to say anything inflammatory or divisive, but you just never know.

So while bopping through my friend’s list today I stumbled upon this post from a friend. I didn’t actually bother to read the link she provided because, for the very reasons I stated above, I didn’t care to get all worked up over the comments of some idiot. Plus, my knee-jerk reaction to her post was, “well… it kind of *is* the victim’s fault.” I’ll explain further in a moment.

Later in the day I also stumbled upon this post from another friend, which referenced back to naturegirl725’s post. Reading this second post made me realize that my “knee-jerk” reaction to the initial post was misguided, mostly because – surprise – I didn’t read the link she included. Thankfully nothing came of this lazy misinterpretation because I didn’t respond in any outward way to her post. But if I had, things might have got ugly, which in a roundabout way would have itself proved to emphasize the point I initially was going to make.

Let me see if I can explain this in a way that makes sense.

What happened this past week in Virginia was obviously a horrible, horrible thing. Life being lost under any circumstance is tragic (not in true definition, but it’ll do), and the pain that these events has caused will never go away. And in response to the point that both naturegirl725 and 28bytes were trying to make, I would say that anyone (*cough*rushlimbaugh*cough*) who thinks that the victims are responsible for their own death because they weren’t… what? brave enough? …is a complete and utter moron. If you charge someone with a gun, you will get shot. End of story. You help NO ONE.

HOWEVER… my initial reaction to naturegirl725’s post was born of the thought that the victims – as indeed we all are – were directly responsible for what happened. The young man who committed this crime was not crafted as a soulless killing machine in some Hollywood movie villain lab. He was a human being, impacted and shaped by the world around him and the people he came in contact with. I won’t attempt to climb into the mind of a killer and explain his particular pain and suffering in some misguided effort to understand why he did what he did. I don’t know him or what he’s been through. And I’ll concede that there may be actual physical issues at play inside his brain. But when I hear people say that the killings were “senseless”, it makes me pause. I mean, I’m sure it made sense to HIM. Yes, it’s warped for us to conceive his actions, but I also don’t understand how people enjoy watching soccer. That doesn’t make their enjoyment any less valid. The truth is that society is just as responsible for creating this supposed monster in Virginia as it is for creating the guy in some lab who’s working himself to the bone trying to come up with a cure for Cancer. We are all influenced by the world around us. The most innocent of everyday behavior can have great impact on another human being without our even being aware of it. Cutting somebody off in traffic might be the worst thing you do in a given day, making you a relatively decent person, but it could also be the final straw that sends somebody else over the edge. You just never know.

This is, of course, not any great revelation on my part. (Believe me, nothing I say is ever a revelation to anybody other than maybe me.) But it seems to be a point that gets lost whenever an event such as the Virginia Tech shootings take place. All the uproar in the aftermath seems to be about how “poorly” the security force at VT reacted, and about how “the signs were there” with this guy yet “nothing was done”. Nobody ever stops to really question what happened to this guy to make him do what he did. “Oh, well he’s disturbed” seems to be the quick write-off. But why? Doesn’t it have to be that somewhere along the line he was wronged by the people in his life? Isn’t it obvious that the daily lack of courtesy and consideration that we show each other as a people is ultimately what caused it all? I’m not meaning to imply that not holding the door open for someone is akin to mental abuse, but if nothing else it is the starting point of a much bigger problem. As a general rule, we don’t consider our actions. We dismiss people so casually for our own (valid) reasons without stopping to weigh just how our dismissal will be perceived. We snap at the guy at the convenience store because he can’t give us what he want, never realizing that each unwarranted slight is another checkmark on an increasing list of grievances we each carry against our fellow man.

There seems to be this expectation that we should have sniffed this guy out a while back and locked him away. Chalked him up as another nutjob that didn’t play well with others. “Thin the herd” is often the expression. Never mind looking in the mirror and exploring what it is we’re doing to create these psychos, let’s just get them off the street and blindly march forward as if it were a fluke. Bad wiring. Just another crazy.

Meanwhile, half a world away people are dying in bunches. While we as a country mourn and wail at the death of 30+ people in a sleepy college town, car bombs have killed another 180+ in Baghdad. It’s a footnote on a news website, to be forgotten tomorrow except by those whose lives were directly effected. Even if it does get brought up in newscasts and talk radio, it’s done so with the idea that, due to the war, it’s on some different level than this lone gunman in Virginia. There is an identifiable “cause” at play that somehow takes the personal sting out of death caused by war. Even when we don’t necessarily agree with or understand the specifics behind why two large factions are fighting, we recognize their collective right to fight and we excuse them to a degree.

I don’t know much. But I do know that EVERY life, no matter how it is lived, is precious. And while I can’t sympathize with that young man in Virginia, it scares me to know that there are thousands out there who probably can, and the rest of us are too selfish to care about the consequence.

And worst of all? Thanks to the knee-jerk reactions of people like me and Rush Limbaugh, somebody somewhere is getting the wrong idea and making plans of their own.

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