As we listened to the maturing stories concerning the mass killings and injuries in Las Vegas on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017, it would be impossible to remember all the disparate thoughts that ran through our minds, many thoughts changing as more accurate information was reported.
There was one thought that I had that continues to pop into my mind and has not changes much as time has gone by: What if that full-race whacko older white dude murderer had been…otherwise. What if he had been, say, black? Or a teenager? Or an Arab? Or a chick? What if he or she had been recently in the military, ours or someone else’s? In psychological therapy? Or related to a black or an Arab or a soldier, or …
And what about the location? Say it wasn’t Sin City. Say it was New York or Los Angeles? Or Salt Lake City or Truth or Consequences? London? Calcutta?
How many differences from what actually occurred can we visualize? And how would the exact same circumstances, the same number of deaths, the same number and severity of injuries but perpetrated by a different person in a different place fundamentally change the way we reacted to the news than and how we do so now?
One would hope the horror of haphazardly killing and injuring people unknown to the perpetrator in conformity with some psychiatricly twisted reasoning would elicit the same response from us regardless of the “details” of the murderer or the location of the crimes. But we would hope that in vain, wouldn’t we?
At times like this our “real” selves seem to slip out, against the control we exert upon them so tightly. And there is not much we can do about that slippage because, after all, “that’s how we are.” Perhaps we suffer a bit of shame as our feelings concerning the act change with the gender, the age, the race, the nationality of the perpetrator or the place where such murders and injuries moves about on a map. And maybe a little guilt when that happens is a good thing as it alerts us to feelings, opinions, biases, prejudices we maintain even as we wish we didn’t.
There is something we can do when we notice our reactions in these cases changing as a function of our “instinctive” natures. We can realize these are not instincts at all –– they are learned. We picked them up along our life’s path just like the things we are proud to demonstrate. We may have read them in a book or pamphlet, we may have seen them in a movie, or on television, or on the Internet, or heard them on the radio. In school or in church? I hope not, but it’s possible. And in other places as well.
But mostly, we heard those feelings, opinions, biases, preju-dices expressed by others, usually privately, usually in person. And not just any persons, but those we respected. Those to whom we listened, often raptly, even when it appeared that we were not paying any attention at all.
Parents? Absolutely. Grandpar-ents? Sure. Older siblings? Yes. Aunts and uncles, teachers, preachers, cops, firefighters, doctors, lawyers, Indian chiefs, the cool kids? Why not? When a respected person says something, that cachet of respectability transfers, that mantle of truth extends to what they say often in contravention to “common sense” or whatever we might call common sense. And it becomes part of us. Part of you, part of me.
There is a way to deal with that poison in ourselves that leaks out against our will in stressful times, much to our regret, much to our shame. It is too late to divest ourselves of that poison, it remains pretty much for keeps. We can try to control it, and it is to our great credit as human beings that we do try, some of us try very hard. But those learned feelings, opinions, biases, prejudices are a part of us, mostly controllable but never excisable. They can, however, if we wish, end with us.
We can spare those who look up to us, those who respect us, those who listen to what we say, those who want someday to become us. We can save them from the poison that we swallowed when we were them.
All we have to do is keep that poison within ourselves.
All we have to do is…..shut up.