Sunday, June 12, 2016


What is the value of one human being? What is the value of 10 human beings? What is the value of 27 human beings, of 33, of 50 or 6 million human beings? What price do we put on the taking of an irreplaceable life? More important than the numbers of human being's lives extinguished is the question of why were those lives taken, an infinitely more complex question to pose. Numbers are in black and white but the whys of those numbers are infinite.

When I was younger and violence was in many corners of our nation's rooms even at that time I would discuss with my aunt about the whys of violence because she was smart and a socially concerned person. I thought her older, wiser and hoped she would give me at least one profound answer to that question. She answered usually by saying "It is man's inhumanity to man and it has always been with us." But that answer never was good enough for me. Forty five years later I am still looking for the answer to that intractable question. Why can man inflict such cruelty on other men without feeling a shred of empathy for those they hurt or kill nor do they often feel guilt for their acts? Why? How can a stranger walk into a nightclub and without hesitation murder 50 human beings he never knew. He did not know their families, their friends, or anyone else who might have loved them. He only knew he wanted to kill them. Why?

Is violence innate, is it learned, it is a sociological phenomenon, a psychological one or is it a psychiatric malady? I think, now that I am the age my aunt was when I first posed the question to her, that the rationale for the unfeeling perpetration of violence and its mayhem are all of those things.

I do think that few enter this world hating. I think hate, as the lyrics from the musical, "South Pacific" say "has to be carefully taught." Yes, one must be carefully taught minute by minute, day by day and year by year by members of one's family, by the pastor, rabbi or imam of one's religion, by teachers or children in the schoolyard and one must, too, be equipped with a special form of DNA that psychologically insulates him from thinking about how that other guy feels. One must not care about such things if one is to perpetrate violence, death and mayhem on another and feel no compunction about it.

Democracy and diplomacy break down when one thinks his cause is more just, more righteous and that gives him a permission slip to kill. Personally, I find it difficult to kill an insect. I ask why that is so and yet another feels no hesitation whatsoever to kill another human being? I do not know the entire answer to that. If I did I would solve my eternal question completely. I know only this: that I see the brevity of life, the harshness of it and the toll it can take on humans that have been given the gift to see it all so I empathize with those who come into this short life short-changed. I am reminded of Teddy Kennedy's eulogy for his brother Robert which advocated helping others rather than hating them. He said:

My brother … saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it. Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today, pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will someday come to pass for all the world.

I try to advocate for the dispossessed and the poor for what else is there in life but to give meaning to the meaningless and hope to the hopeless. We will never, I think, stop violence and man's inhumanity to man but I can hope the one small candle I light will help others to brighten their world.


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