Sunday, July 22, 2012

the humanity

I, like everyone with a heart & soul, am horrified by Friday's shootings at the Aurora, Colorado theater. Loss of life is always sad but losses due to violence are particularly troubling; I have a measure of expectation that people will be killed by accidents or diseases or old age, but these kinds of seemingly preventable deaths shake my faith. Not my faith in God but my hope that people will always choose goodness over wickedness. And I am not talking about the gunman - I strongly believe he is afflicated with mental illness and that often leaves people without a true sense of personal choice. I am instead considering those who, in their grief and horror and confusion, are directing hate & violent wishes toward this man.

I thoroughly understand wanting someone to 'pay' for pain that they cause others. It is natural for people to feel this way - if we didn't have powerfully emotional reactions like this, we would not be human. We tend to find satisfaction in witnessing an eye for an eye. But my belief in a loving merciful God and remembering that the one who perpetrated this violence is still a human being makes me set this aside. Make no mistake - I do feel terrifically angry about the senselessness of his actions, about all of those who simply wanted entertainment that night and whose lives are now either ended or significantly altered. My heart breaks for them and their families, but it also breaks for the person the gunman was before he made this fateful decision. For the people who know him and are now doubly traumatized being profoundly sad for the victims yet bereft of their friend & loved one, feeling utterly betrayed and somehow guilty for what happened.

It is a difficult thing to see a nightmarish situation like this one from the other side because we identify most with the victims; we think we are more like them than the criminal. Yet all of us have been faced many times with the choice between reacting the way we feel like and doing what we morally should. Everyone has said I could kill him! in a fit of anger; of course no one means it literally. Until something like this happens.

I do not advocate allowing anyone to escape reasonable punishment for crimes committed. Evil behavior is not excused by mental illness; people must be held accountable by our justice system for their actions. But as a civilized & just society I hope we can find compassion in our hearts for all affected by violence, including those causing it. It is tremendously difficult, like most important things are, yet so worth it.

I am not so naive as to believe simply feeling more loving or showing kindness toward the ill or wicked will prevent all tragedies like this one. I do, however, believe that if we allow ourselves to hatefully dismiss those committing these crimes we will never have peace.

We're only human, for better or worse.