When people look into the face of evil at the Columbine H.S. shootings, they see the same evils they saw before. So we have people of all stripes and persuasions blaming this horrible event on the exact same problems they decried before the event. The cry goes forth that this tragedy was caused by too much of the usual suspects. This event has become a Rorschach blot test, with the response to the event telling more about the speaker than the event itself.
This was a terrible tragedy, but to put this event into perspective, consider that on average over a hundred people die every day in automobile accidents in this country. So quite likely, as many teenagers died or were injured in car accidents as at Columbine H.S. Are not these deaths as tragic, as devastating to their loved ones as those at the High School? Where is the coverage, the outpouring of sympathy, the handwringing? Consider how many children die every day from terrible childhood diseases, alone and unnoticed but for their immediate family and friends.
I won't even go into how we anguish so much more at dead Americans versus dead Foreigners as if the death of an American is somehow more important, more tragic than any foreigner.
A number of years ago, a young girl fell down a well and national attention was riveted on the attempts to rescue her. I couldn't understand the hoopla considering that at that very moment, others were in similar or worse predicaments without any such notice or heroic efforts on their behalf. I am happy that the girl was saved, but sad that so many stayed glued to the TV for the vicarious thrill while other people who could have been helped weren't.
The media by its nature presents an awful distorting lens, valuing a tiny few far in excess of the mass of others. Since car accidents are common, they don't get much notice, but because High School killing rampages are very rare, they get excessive notice. If you watched the news last night and wondered what kind of world we live in because evil visited Columbine High School, consider how much worse a world it would be if such a rampage were so common as to elicit no national attention, no mass outpouring of shock, revulsion, and grief.
All too often we worry about what the other guy is doing. We don't mind telling the other guy what to do, when to do it and whom to do it to. We think this would be a better world if the other people in it would just shape up and act the way we think they should. Naturally, we hate to be told by others what to do, but think nothing of telling others what to do.
No one is exactly like me, or you -- what a dull world this would be were it true. Why should I think that not only do I have all the answers for everyone, but that what is good or fun or important for me is necessarily the same for you? I cerainly believe that there are some universal truths, and that there is a core of goodness, funness, and importance for us all. In fact, I'm a believer that we should compromise on the little things so that we can share the big things - the universal truths. The difficulty here is, of course, in being able to tell the big things from the little things.
I can't control what other people do; I can't control what life brings my way. All I can control is how I act, what my response to life is. I don't think it is vanity or conceit to concentrate on my own actions and attitudes, and concentrate my efforts at improvement on myself. Besides, few people will listen to my exhortations if I don't live them myself.
What should our response be to such evil as took place? I don't know, but I'll try to do more of what I should have already been doing - loving my wife and children and letting them know how important they are to me every day; giving a helping hand to others who need it; working on behalf of my community; and reaching out in friendship to all who I meet.
If I have retreated to reflection, it is in part due to the distasteful wallowing in the detail, almost a reveling in the evil, of the media about the tragic occurance at Columbine H.S. I am trying to find my own perspective, my own response. I am almost convinced that the overboard, indulgent coverage to the event serves not to make it more immediate to us, but to distance us from it because as the insignificant details pile up, as the picture of another place builds up, it takes on a separate, unconnected to us life of its own. It becomes clearly somewhere else, and not part of my life, of what I have to deal with. And yet, as I know from experience, the raw stuff of life is in part tragedy, and only by how I deal with it can I integrate it into a joyous, triumphant life.
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This page last updated 25 April 1999.
Contents copyright Kevin Murphy 1999. All rights reserved.