Reacting to Death

A comment in regard to the recent killings in Colorado has got me thinking. The person suggested, with the outcry against guns that perhaps we should ban cars too since they kill so many people (obviously a gun rights advocate). But why do we react so differently to a violent shooting than to a massive traffic accident?

The obvious answer is not just the death, but the attacker reveals something scary. That it is possible for a seemingly normal human being to act with such cold violence. It reminds me of a story about one outsider who stayed in Rwanda. While his family was still there he felt safe. He lived in a neighborhood where he could let his children roam free. But then, suddenly, the pent-up hatred is released and 8,000 people are dying every night.

I think this is something we should react to strongly. It’s important to recognize that secretly harbored hatreds, if clung to, can explode under the right circumstances. But I think there is something also very frightening in the traffic accident.

Yes it is horrifying to see a cold-blooded killer. When I started writing this I’d just heard about the Aurora theater shooting. But then there was the Wisconsin Sikh template. The Empire State building, and more. So many tragedies we have to be careful not to become calloused by them. But what about the recklessly indifferent? Traffic accidents are frequently the result of neglect. Someone is driving too fast, not paying attention to the road, driving when they can hardly stay awake, or when they are drunk. And though we try not to think about it, we know driving is an activity where mistakes put people’s lives on the line.

Yet how many of us have become calloused to the risks we are taking, pushing aside the twinges of guilt while speeding, texting, or trying to sneak ahead of the other car. We even get angry that the cops are so diligent at stopping speeders instead of “doing their jobs.”

We’re horrified at how the Aurora killer was so numb he stood outside of the movie theater and was taken without struggle. We’re shocked at how the killer in Oslo felt no remorse. But shouldn’t we feel a little twinge of fear when we look at ourselves  and find a potential accomplice to murder in our neglect of little safeties? Do we feel afraid when our negligence could cause injury? And if so, do we desire to change?


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September 2012
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