Heavy days that weigh on us all. Some call it evil, others call out television, video games, or political rhetoric. Would a rose by any other name shock the conscience as much as random acts of violence do?
Let me be clear: I believe the actions of the mentally ill are only tangentially attributable to outside sources. The actions of a sick person are the actions of the illness. Anything could trigger it; George Carlin once did a bit that went something along the lines of, “Have you ever sent anybody a bottle of Scope [mouthwash]?” The image he followed with was that of a mentally ill, violent person receiving a bottle of said mouthwash, taking it as an attack on his person, and that final straw sends him on a violent rampage.
That’s not as far from the truth as that humorist might have hoped. For people with severe mental problems, the most benign stimuli can cause severe mental turmoil that does result in major reactions, including violence. As such, we cannot blame inane rhetoric by the likes of media profiteers (and I’m not limiting that to any side of any aisle, any particular feathered appendage, etc.). Their rhetoric is deplorable in and of itself, and it should be replaced with something more meaningful, but it is not blameworthy for the actions of the mentally ill.
I also believe that in this case the young man had begun to plan, and at some point in that process he had internalized his plan to the point where only direct intervention in his life would have stopped him. In that he is no different than our media and politics: the media has committed itself to a particular persona and will only change if it sees no way to salvage its current lifestyle. Same for our politics.
We desperately need a shift in the media and politics in this country, but not because we might find salvation from violence. Because we might actually build a country that can handle violence and can treat the mentally ill with the dignity they deserve and give them a chance to pursue happiness with the rest of us. But if you look at the reactions, you probably fear as I do that we still aren’t headed in that direction. They still don’t get it.
The fact that the media will only even talk about the need for change (but it’s always the other guy that needs the change) in reaction to such an episode is not the problem, but merely a symptom. There are plenty of symptoms. The lack of any substantive debate is chief, but the fact that even minor agreement with a point from a colleague is often seen as weakness is also prominent. Weakness is reviled in our society (which means we stigmatize things like mental illness), when calls to “man up” rule the day. You might as well say, “show no mercy, take no prisoners, torture the sons of bitches until their last breath if that’s what it takes to win.”
We have fallen from grace, though not in the biblical sense, in the human sense. Grace, as I learned it, was being happy for your opponent when you lost, and also being happy for your opponent when you won. It was marching out on the field to tell them you enjoyed the game. These days our grace is nothing, replaced by bitter sniveling and thoughts of revenge. We pretend that the other guy is so different that our loss puts us a mere heartbeat from complete collapse.
That in a great nation is unacceptable. We should have trouble deciding whom to vote for because they would both do a great job. Instead, the campaign is a game played out in the media, a test that does nothing to prove the ability to actually govern. And the laws that govern campaigning are then seen as the rules of the road. If the rules don’t say to try to avoid hitting squirrels, you don’t have to. They’re worth ten points, fifteen if their heads explode. For gods’ sakes.
The way out? Forgiveness. Cast off your masks and cloaks. Let the sunlight warm your face and bring gladness to your heart, for this is not the end of the road. We did not die on 8 January, 2011 or on 11 September 2001. We still have the choice to make things work, despite the challenges and despite our differences.
The green glow of the exit sign beckons us. But it requires empathy and understanding. It requires humility and forgiveness. There is no magic switch to throw that will preclude Senator Bumble from returning to the gagging speech patterns that have been his bread and butter for two decades, so his colleague will have to forgive him when he does meander. The talking heads on cable news will be in uncharted waters when they start to speak from the heart and stop trying to dominate their guests. They won’t always succeed, and will revert to their old patterns. Forgive them.
It is in forgiveness that we move on. It allows us to move past the surface and into the meat of the matters at hand. It allows us to escape playing the same games that got us here. It disarms their attacks and precludes our own retaliation. It is an invitation to the former opponent to be a colleague again. It is the only way we can reclaim our country from the beast of incessant bickering and useless hatred.
Before we were enemies, we joined into a union of states. Let us forgive ourselves for neglecting that and move forward as colleagues seeking the best for our company, the United States of America. Play ball.