Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Sympathy for the Devil

I love mysteries. I always have. I devour those newsmagazine shows because, let’s face it, truth is stranger than fiction. I watch the progression from crime to investigation to trial. I revel in good triumphing over evil. Like everyone else, I want to see justice done. I believe in consequences.

But there’s another piece for me as well. I can’t seem to make the scales balance between my heart and my head. I don’t believe in the death penalty. But I don’t really want to pay for the food, lodging and medical care of someone who will rightfully never walk the streets again either. And here’s the real conundrum: if anyone ever killed one of my family members, I would want the death penalty. Immediately.

School shootings, movie theater shootings, mall shootings, abortion clinic bombings, a blast at the Boston Marathon finish line; all this heart-wrenching sadness at such senseless loss and permanent alteration of life. Like everyone else, I am horrified by it, by the scars it leaves on individuals and on society as a whole, by the ramifications in our daily lives, by the way we will never again look at places and events, by our increased sense of vulnerability. Family members left to grieve. Forever. Our collective naivete changed. Forever.

But here’s where I admit that I, once again, can’t balance the scales between my heart and my head; when the perpetrator is young, I hurt for them too. And their families. Their young lives, in one way or another, are over too. Their family members left to grieve too. Forever. Many of the families will blame themselves, adding shame and responsibility to that mix.

I feel compelled to mourn for young perpetrators who have come to a place of callous disregard for life, I don’t see only evil. I also see sickness, delusion and pain. I see a mentally ill or brainwashed or rejected and dejected alienated person who not only destroyed the lives of strangers, but his life and those of his family. I mourn for their loss of humanity. I mourn for the person who could have been.

I’m a Bostonian. Patriots’ Day, the Boston Marathon, evoke feelings of pride. So I was horrified at the bombing there, not only as a human, as an American, but as a Bostonian. Of course I wanted justice. I sat with my heart in my throat both as I searched for friends and family that day, and again days later when they were all in lockdown.

But when I saw the pictures of the two young men that law enforcement were hunting down, I knew I was doomed. I knew that another piece of my heart would break for them and for their families. Maybe it’s because I have adolescent boys and I see that they don’t always make good choices, think things through, accept consequences. Not at anywhere near that level, of course. But I don’t know, I just don’t know.

Because as I watched the story in Boston unfold, I also saw this:
*Two boys brought to this country to seek political asylum who tried to fit in. They did well in school, played sports and were well liked. But they didn’t seem to have developed any deep and meaningful connections in their new home. I heard no stories of best friends, sleepovers, parties, days at the beach . . .
*Two boys who didn’t seem to have familial connections either. Their parents had left them behind to go back to Russia for medical treatment (who leaves Boston to go to Russia for medical treatment?). Their uncle, in this country, admits to being estranged from them for years.
*Two boys whose Aunt’s press conference was a narcissistic, unemotional, self-aggrandizing rant.
*A 26 year old who recently visited the place where he grew up and formed a lot of his belief system and most likely (I’m speculating) fell victim to the skewed ideology of predators.
*A 19 year old, whose (again, speculation) love of an idolized older brother who seemed to be the only emotional connection he had, overshadowed any rational thought of where he was being led.

I’m not making excuses. There are no excuses.

After another ruthless murder and the death of his older brother, I watched a 19 year old hunted down like an animal. And yes, he behaved like an animal. But 19 years old. His life is over too. Any possibility of reconciling his love for his brother with being an honorable person, any future promise, extinguished. He deserves it because, no matter what could have been, he did show a callous disregard for life. I believe in consequences.

I recently wrote about a devastating set of circumstances my son found himself in the middle of. In my piece I do not address the gravity of the social issues at the heart of it all, I explore my feelings from the perspective of the mom of a boy caught up in it, trying to make a path through it. I talk about struggling to come to terms with the impact on my son’s life. I write from this more personal place not to diminish the precipitating act, but because I’ve seen first-hand the ripple affect on all in it’s wake. I’m grappling with the devastation to everyone involved. Yes, including the accused.

I do not condone. I do empathize. I don’t think these two concepts are mutually exclusive.

The national headquarters of a fraternity just shut down an Oklahoma chapter because a video of the brothers chanting racial slurs had come to light. No question that in this instance too there are primary concerns, real, frightening glimpses into what still goes on in our society. And yet, when the kid on that video that went viral was named? I hurt for him too. And for his family.

I know I’ll be judged for feeling this, and especially for saying it in light of the premeditated horror carried out by some and the life-changing devastation brought about by others. It’s not that I don’t “see the forest for the trees”, I do. I see it. I’m just as hurt and frightened by the core issues as anyone else.

But I also feel sympathy for the devil. I’m sorry, I just do.

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34 comments:

  1. Your compassionate view is one that I wish more of us held. Namaste.

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    1. Thank you, Carol. I really do grapple with it.

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  2. I feel that is definitely a tragedy all the way around. As the mother of son I get it.

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    1. As Moms we welcome the birth of our children with so much love and hope. We endure, survive, push through so much along the way, I can't help but have sympathy for the moms who are caught up in the most horrendous of situations with those children.

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  3. Goodness, I thought I was the only one. I think it's our nature as mothers. We want to protect and defend. It's in our DNA. I empathize with your son's situation as well. Life can change terrifyingly fast. Hang in.

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    1. Yes, so much hope lost. As much as I'm dealing with, there are moms is a much worse situations than mine.

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  4. Of course you are not alone. I think more people agree with your thoughts than not. Not just as a mother, but as a human, anyone with a compassionate heart will think of all sides to these issues. I often look at homeless people and wonder how they got there -- one day they were perfect little babies. Same for criminals -- that is why it is easy not to be quick to judge -- we don't know what circumstances put them in this place.

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    1. Exactly. And especially in so many circumstances where there were no signs ahead of time, yet we judge not just the perpetrator, not just the actions, but the entire family.

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  5. I wouldn't say that I feel sympathy for the devil, because I actually believe that there is a force for evil working behind the scenes in this life.
    But I do understand that evil behavior doesn't spring up from a vacuum. My heart goes out to broken humanity, wherever it is found...which is pretty much wherever humanity is. Both to the victim, and the perpetrator...who likely at one point was also a victim.

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    1. Fair enough. My only further comment would be that I don't think there is always a force for evil, sometimes there's mental illness.

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  6. Just over this weekend I heard on the local news that a young father-to-be was gunned down for his gold chain. He didn't put up a fight, he just tried to run away. Based on past trends, I'm sure at least one (or both) of the two perpetrators will be in the teens. I could never condone things like this & I hope they are prosecuted to fullest extent of the law. But simply punishing them alone hasn't been cutting it. It's clear that compassion & understanding is needed to keep kids from reaching to that level.

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    1. I think you really touch on the greatest question of all: can we identify who's going to act out before they do, and if so, can we impact the behavior. Ultimately if it's a lack of morals, that's one thing. If it's mental illness, that's another completely.

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  7. I understand completely how you feel, it is in a mother's nature to nurture, some more than others it seems. You care unconditionally & in so doing you also realize that no one is perfect, you, your child or their friends. As a mother you attempt to the best of your ability to develop values & morals in your child but at the same time not smother them with your love allowing them to grow into responsible human beings, making their own decisions & having to accept the consequences if they make the wrong ones. The blame when this goes wrong in one person as opposed to another cannot always be placed on one specific area as opposed to another, often there are many contributing factors. We always look for somewhere to place blame & often are apt to reflect it back on ourselves when that is not the case. Being able to look at both sides & the corresponding factors enables us to accept that bad things do happen & that there may be changes that can be made to prevent a reoccurrence but also to realize that we are not responsible. If we recognize these changes it is up to us to decide what we will do to work on making the changes happen & to know that there are times when there is absolutely nothing we can do to change things. I do believe that people have to be punished or treated for their actions based on the individual circumstances

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    1. I agree that consequences are necessary in any society. I also think that it's our instinct to reconcile this in our own minds, but blame can be harmful. We try to place ourselves as far from the act as possible, but in doing so we can do more harm than good. When we blame others (usually parents) we tend to lose the ability to look at the tragedy with the clear eyes of people looking to make an impact of future similar actions.

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  8. I understand mixed feelings that can become more intense - in both directions - given perp and victim. Mostly however, nobody should judge YOU for the history,feelings, emotions, experience, intellect, and other unique influences which led to your take on this, whatever it is. Thinking, feeling people SHOULD be conflicted.

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  9. This kind of empathy is what makes me write people.

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    1. And I commend you, Jenniy, you take it a step further than I have.

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  10. The older I get, the less clear my vision is. Things seem more complex, less cut and dried, more nuanced. In my younger years, it was easier to judge.

    (BTW: I too am against capital punishment. It takes less dollars to feed and clothe lifers than it does to pay for all the appeals of people on death row.)

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    1. I happen to think, from your description, that the older you get the clearer your vision is. It's so much easier to judge when we're younger because for most of us we haven't weathered many of life's storms. The more complex we see things, the more we see them clearly.

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  11. I think that Saddam Hussein was pure evil. I cried when I saw footage of him being hung to death. I'm human.

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    1. I completely understand what you felt.I have a very hard time coming to terms with putting someone to death as a way to say, as a society, that we don't condone murder.

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  12. Very powerful and emotional post. There are so many that will agree and disagree with your position on this subject. Either way there are no winners when it comes to these events. Just tragedy and emotional turmoil.

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    1. Very true, no winners once it comes to this. It's all tragedy.

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  13. Great powerful post. I too feel sadness for both sides. The world can be a scary place today.

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    1. Yes, it really is, and as moms we see it all differently than we did when we were younger.

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  14. Tough.
    I tend to be quick to say "come on now, stop making excuses, there are other people who had a bad childhood and they don't take it out on innocent people!"
    But I have to admit when I read your post about your son's friend I was thinking about my own friends. Would I abandon them for a crime they committed? What if a friend of mine killed someone? It may sound crazy but I just couldn't imagine turning my back to them. In a situation like this they need a friend more than ever.

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    1. I get what you're saying and appreciate the compassion you'd show for a friend.

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  15. I think you are totally accurate that it is possible to not condone, but still empathize in a situation. I, too, tend to be able to see both sides of a situation, and put myself in each person's shoes - but that is easier to do when one is not personally involved. I hope your son can learn from the situation you discussed with the insight and compassion that his mother is capable of - and without any negative life impact. I have felt for you both as you have wrestled with this.

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    1. It was great to get my son home over Spring Break and really talk to him. He'll be fine. He has some decisions to make about his own future, but we'll be there with him every step of the way.

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  16. I get this. I am the same way. It's called compassion. It's a very good thing to have.
    I agree with an above comment. The world is so much more grey than black and white.
    <3

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    1. Absolutely, way more grey, and we need to spend more time acknowledging the grey.

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  17. Such compassion is what we need more of in this world.

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    1. It's hard to come to terms with where the promise of a child can go so wrong.

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