Like everyone else I was shocked, saddened and angered by the terrible events at Sandy Hook Elementary School last week. Such a waste of life, shooting children whose lives have barely begun!
I wondered why someone would take it into his head--even his sickest, most confused head--to act out his pain on six and seven year-old children and their teachers. It defies understanding.
But that's the thing. Because it defies understanding, it's easy to dismiss this terrible act as an anomaly. Easy to think that no normal person could be capable of such an atrocity.
But I wonder.
It's a commonplace of war that soldiers shoot innocent women and children. They even torture, rape, and maim noncombatants with little or no guilt. Not all soldiers, of course, and not all the time. But all it takes, apparently, for soldiers to objectify and dehumanize civilians on the other side of the conflict is the belief that they are evil or defective in some way. Exhaustion, frustration, fear, and grief can thus be vented on these Others who do not deserve to live.
At the end of Tyler Perry's movie "Precious," the mother confesses her rage, sadness, hurt and loss in a long monologue explaining why she has abused her daughter and allowed her boyfriend to do the same. It is a difficult scene to watch. At the end of it, Precious walks away from her mother, freed from the past because she finally understands that her mother's rage has never truly been about her, but about her mother's own losses. Precious' social worker also leaves. In her case, she is repulsed and horrified, unable to sit in the same room with this monster.
And so Mama sits alone at the end with no one to help her heal her wounds or tell her how to live with the knowledge of her own evil. She is isolated from decent society. She is a pariah.
No one can help her because none of the characters is capable of taking the courageous step that would lead to healing: recognizing themselves in Precious' mother. Allowing Mama to rejoin the human race because she is, after all, like the rest of us in everything but the extremity of her pain and rage.
Can we truly afford to think ourselves incapable of objectifying other people? Of projecting our own fear and hatred onto others who have nothing whatsoever to do with us?
I'm not suggesting that anyone is capable of taking an automatic weapon to an elementary school and killing innocents.
What I am suggesting is that every one of us has yelled at another driver because we're mad at our spouse; been unkind to our spouse because we're mad at our boss; projected our own character defects onto another and hated him for them.
I'm suggesting that pain unacknowledged and unhealed often finds a target, that we prefer to project the darkest corners of our mind onto an objectified "Him" or "Them," that we excuse, rationalize, and deny the poison in our own souls so that we can differentiate ourselves from "bad people."
It's a dangerous way to live.
NEXT WEEK LETI DEL MAR, AUTHOR OF "THE INADVERTANT THIEF," WILL STEP IN WITH A GUEST BLOG.