by Shawn Simpson
An unfortunate fact of life is that awful things are going to be perpetrated by people for reasons that are equally awful. Our collective response, choosing to feed the tragic frenzy or focus on healing in the midst of crises, affects the cycle of repeated events.
My first reaction when I see someone being awful is to respond in kind. I’ll think to myself “You want to get nasty? Let’s get nasty!” I want to prove that I can be bigger and louder and that as long as I’m around, your actions won’t go unpunished.
Given that my name is in the byline of this article rather than in the headlines of national media for having been arrested a dozen times, it should be clear that my inner rage has stayed contained. Fighting these groups and/or individuals adds fuel to their fire and that not only brings them publicity, but in a way, validity to their protest.
I have had some exposure to a certain western Kansas hate group disguised as a “church,” to whom we’ll refer as “awful people” from here forward, seeing as that’s fitting.
One group was organized entirely to oppose the efforts of the awful people. This group takes their two-wheeled vehicles and American flags and stand sentry between families of soldiers and the unnamed scum. No confrontation. No shouting. No fighting. Just a wall of well-placed, upstanding citizens who happened to be out for a leisurely ride and stopped to pay their respects for a fallen soldier.
Another group, from my home state of Mississippi, took a more creative approach when the awful people came to town. Some town residents clearly needed hotel rooms and aren’t very good at parking and must’ve somehow blocked all of the awful people’s vehicles from leaving the parking lot. It was all sorted out after a few hours, but the awful people missed their scheduled protest in all the confusion. Shucks.
While I can’t help but pump my fist in triumph when I hear about events like this, the clear answer to the question of how to deal with these awful people is to ignore them. Like a fire, they feed on the air of attention that we provide them by lending any level of credibility to what they do. Depriving them of that air causes their raging inferno of hatred to dwindle to a smoldering little pile of pathetic matchsticks. We may never be able to choke out their fire completely, but at least we can make sure they’re only able to burn themselves if we don’t get too close.
Beyond the organized group of awfulness that has festered for decades is the more recent rash of mass killings we are seeing. Blinded by hatred and the potential of fame, even if post-mortem, the twisted mind of too many have led them down this road. The perpetrator invariably becomes something of a celebrity while the evils of their actions are parsed. The identities of the victims are guarded or withheld completely while the evildoer is set apart and given all of the attention that they desperately wanted.
The recent shootings at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, showed there is a trend toward not sensationalizing the evildoer. We barely heard his name mentioned, and when we did it was for being someone who did something awful rather than as a quasi-victim of circumstance, as some before have been cast.
Are we starting to see a change in the way these things will be handled? Is it possible if we quit treating those evildoers like celebrities to be understood by society, we could stifle the attraction of some to do evil things for the attention?
Smarter people than I have said, and I believe, that we are in the midst of a heart problem in this society. There are people whose heart tells them the way to deal with their problem is to scream hurtful things at funerals of people you don’t even know. There are those whose heart won’t see that murdering schoolchildren is universally a bad thing. We can see 140 characters on a screen and believe that we’ve seen enough of a story to start burning down our city, while another can see an internet meme to justify wholesale condemnation of those people. Maybe we can start promoting some better behavior and become a healthier society. If our hearts and news were filled with the good being done, there would be no room for the evil.
In the absence of the desired response, will the attention-seeking evildoer change his ways? Is the silence of our reaction deafening to their misguided motivations?