Excuse a brief diversion from animal rights for a moment. Let’s zoom out to the larger question of compassion at large…….
I work in Hollywood. Today there was a man walking down the street 2 blocks from my office building. He pulled out his gun and began shooting into the air. He shouted, “Kill me!” Then he began shooting at passing cars. This was at a major thoroughfare in downtown Hollywood…Sunset and Vine. The police were called and the man was killed in the street.
Everyone outside was abuzz. Police were everywhere and the area was blockaded all day. But besides the “what if’s” that we all talk about in these situations, there are other great concerns that this incident brought to my mind. You see, yes, I’m horrified that someone would do this. But I’m also horrified about this human crying out and demanding to be killed. Tell me, what leads to that?? Is it just me, or is that horrifying? When I hear about this kind of thing, part of my compassion goes to the offender himself as well as to the offended. Some might say a person who can draw a gun and shoot at strangers doesn’t deserve compassion. Who gets to decide, then, where the flow of compassion stops? I certainly don’t want that responsibility! I would rather heed the compassion that I feel inside my gut and follow it where it takes me.
In this case, it took me to wondering about our society. Wondering how people can go from uncorrupted and guiltless babies to men and women wailing for their own demise through voice and vice. I fear that if we see our middle class disappear anymore than it already has, we will be bracing ourselves against more “kill me” shooters, senior robbers, identity thieves, safe surrenders of babies, on and on and on. In other words, more individual and group desperation leading to more poverty-related acts including crimes. What is it called? The strain theory? More socioeconomic strain –> more anger –> more crime.
If I truly believe that I am connected to every Other, then I am intertwined not only with Gandhi, with Martin Luther King, and the heroes of 911, but also with the men who killed them. I am intertwined not only with the man who robs a bank to feed his starving family but the man who robs a bank to feed his heroine addiction. I’ve heard of a man who lives in Colorado, named Ed. He is debilitated, maybe homeless. He is probably repulsive to most and very likely lonesome. He’s a genius though. He used to work as a physicist. If I am happy to consider myself connected to the Ed of the past—the educated scientist—am I equally happy to be connected to the Ed of today? Are you?
I remember in 2004 I was living in Chicago and heard of a young woman who attempted to kill herself. She was driving on Dempster and accelerated through traffic, crashing into other cars. She lived, but others were injured…possibly killed, I can’t remember anymore. I felt such compassion for this girl thinking of the desperation she must have felt. Others thought her evil. I understand why they say that, but I cringed to hear it. Each of us has the potential to fall into such desperation that we have no twig on which to clasp our groping hand. No one expects to be there when they are beginning out in this world. How many of the 45 million Americans living in poverty planned to be there? Were I to be in that place of desperation I would hope that someone would be there to take hold of my wrist.
Where has the compassion gone in our politics? In our budget? In our worldview? How did one man end up so tormented, lost, desperate and/or angry that he asked to be killed in the middle of the street on December 9th?
I will keep stirring up that compassion in myself even when it seems misplaced to others. I have a feeling this world is going to need it one day.