There’s a reason I don’t write often on tragedies such as the Sandy Hook massacre or terrorist attacks. I just don’t know where to start. With all the miserable things we hear in the news, where does one start? Does one start with the instinctive outrage, despair or blame? Taking a step back we all acknowledge that does little to help the state of things. Given that, what events does one write about? How do we rank tragedies in order of how horrendous they are? In fact, isn’t the judgement of how horrendous something in subjective and relative to what is important to a person, community or country? Is the name of the murderer more newsworthy than that of his victims?
I often find I have not much to say on murders, massacres or other atrocities. This is not because I don’t care, or am unaffected but simply because I have no words to add to the communal well of grief so prevalent in the media today, nor can I muster up the relevant level of outrage balanced with the understanding that an truly empathetic response requires. I can only pretend to comprehend the breadth and depth of sorrow, anger and anguish facing those who have experienced the uglier side of human nature. I have no real understanding of what living in a war-torn country is like, of what losing a loved one to the hand of another human being feels like, and perhaps most importantly, I can not even fathom what it is like to personally know a murderer or even suspect a loved one of violent tendencies.
Liza Long’s controversial blog post ‘I am Adam Lanza’s Mother‘ can be read in any number of ways. It has been praised for being an open and honest cry for help, others argue that it is an unfair labelling of the mental ill as violent killers. What interests me however, is the experience of Liza Long herself, and the events which lead her to write the article that she did. I can’t imagine the kind of pressure she lives under, what would it be like to love someone you are afraid of? How do you move past that fear to ensure you properly nurture your child? It is easy for us as outsiders to analyse and postulate arrogantly about a troubled child needing love, affection and nurturing to ensure their good side overcomes their “evil.”
However, what does that really entail? What is the correct method of dealing with the mentally ill? If we can in fact recognise these people as human beings, we should all remember that each and everyone of us operates differently and respond differently to the actions of others. The question I think we should be most interested in is not what should be done, but how can it be done? How can we translate empathy into our daily lives, what form should it take, how do we come to understand the needs of others?
There are perhaps many things that could have prevented the Sandy Hook massacre, but how many of us can honestly say we would have been capable of such things, or even know clearly what those things are? Faced with a son like Adam Lanza, how many of us can say we would not have given up in despair fuelled by fear and simply prayed things would work out? After years of trying to raise a child ‘right’, would you have the confidence to wholeheartedly love a child whose violent tendencies you feel at least partly responsible for? If you were told by outsiders that you did not love your child enough, where would you muster up more love and affection from? The ‘treatment’ of the mentally ill is not as simple as finding the switch to reprogram bad to good, nor are the actions of those giving ‘treatment’ easily categorised between right and wrong.
I don’t have answers for any of these questions, and thinking about the tragedies happening every second around the world, in real life and in fiction, there is no way I could possibly dream of answering such worldly problems. I can barely piece together haphazard answers to the menial troubles I face in my day to day life, nor can I offer a thought to every person deserving of sympathy without leaving out millions each day. I choose instead to be thankful each day for the life I live, and the opportunity to love those around me. I can only hope that it is enough to compensate for the fact that I cannot care personally for all miseries of our world.
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.