Monday, December 17, 2012

In Which I Hope We Have Enough Warriors

There have been, of late, too many tragedies like Newtown or Aurora.  Each one provokes a predictable round of conversations that flare quickly briefly, the national dialogue of "We must do something to control these guns" met by "responsible gun owners save lives" met by "shouldn't there be some limitations on gun ownership" met by Constitutional arguments, a whirling round of binary posturing that spins down into obscurity after a few weeks as other media horrors capture our attention.

Relatively recently, this mix has begun to include pleas for reform or at least expansion of our mental healthcare system, calls for better diagnosis and treatment of the sort of severe mental illness we imagine to be required for someone to fire a gun into a crowded theatre or classroom, or pilot his airplane into an office building -- because it's unthinkable that anyone besides a complete madman would do such a thing.

On all sides, there's a tremendous amount of political haymaking, with everyone certain he or she can find the magic solution in a law, a funding decision, the presence or absence of a deity in our public lives, that will resolve all of this, and insisting that solution be implemented to the exclusion of all others.

What I see precious little of, however, is evolution in our cultural dialogue on violence, on our shift from the narrative of the Warrior to the narrative of unbridled vengeance.

When I was a young girl, I watched a lot of movies.  I remember Red Dawn and Back to the Future and Goonies.  There seemed to be a tone, in much of the media I consumed, that said, "Yes, there are bullies and enemies and they are horrible people, but the little guy can stand up, and he can PUNCH that bully right in the nose, and the bully will leave him alone."  These were narratives of the Warrior:  if you are strong and brave and kind, if you fight for yourself and your loved ones, you can overcome those who would abuse or exploit you.  We had Han Solo and the Last Starfighter, who took on fights they could have abandoned, because they made a conscious choice to stand for the right.

I was inoculated with the culture of the Warrior, and it still resonates within me.  Somewhere, though, we started to be embarrassed, to consider the idea passe and hokey.  We found different icons:  The Crow, Thelma and Louise, avatars of wrath and vengeance.  We began to see a broad cultural shift in motivation, from protecting our loved ones and standing for what's right, to retribution and being the self-appointed right hand of karma.

The narrative of vengeance, of the man who's had too much and snaps, isn't new.  One need only look at Taxi Driver to see it.  The difference is that older narratives treat the descent into vengeance as a horror, a brutal depravity.  Batman Begins, on the other hand, a plot line fueled on all sides by revenge and retribution, is a glorious and lovingly crafted symphony of beautiful explosions, car chases, and gadgets.

Don't get me wrong; I love Batman Begins, and I own it on DVD.  But when I watch it, I find myself viewing it through the lens of the Warrior my childhood left behind.  I don't want to *be* that Batman, a dark hero despised by the people he has chosen to stand for, whose civic duty is tinged with a contempt and bitterness for the people unlucky enough to deserve a hero like him.  I have defenses against it, but I worry that we don't all have those defenses.  I worry that if we're raised on a diet of vengeance and violence, we lose the capacity to choose to use force responsibly. If we lose the heart of the Warrior, then we lose something precious that I believe we need very much.

I do have a certain amount of hope, though.  In every moment of tragedy, I have heard of heroes.  Stories of teachers who risked their lives at Columbine to lead students to safety.  Names like Liviu Librescu, the Holocaust survivor who died holding off the Virginia Tech gunman while his students fled.  Stories of first responders in Aurora, pushing towards the theatre to rescue the wounded, not sure if the gunman was still inside.  Kaitlin Roig, who sheltered those under her care, asked them to be brave with her, and spoke words of loving compassion to children she believed were about to die with her, so that the last things they heard would be, "It's going to be OK" and "I love you" instead of gunfire.  Those are Warriors' hearts.

Into the Murrah Building, into the twin towers, to the front of Flight 93, people ran towards danger to help those in need, to defend the innocent, to save loved ones.  Every day, around the world, people from all walks of life, teachers and firefighters and computer programmers and nurses and soldiers and retail clerks are given chances to stand up and choose love in the face of danger, oppression, ignorance, and hate.  Fewer, now, choose the path of the Warrior, and those that do risk ridicule or dismissal, but we can change that.

If you would stem the tide of violence, by all means advocate for better gun control and better mental health care and better protections or police patrols or whatever other concrete means you believe will effect that change.  But beyond that, do what you can to remind yourself and those around you of the importance of Warriors.  Forget the names of those who took up arms to seek vengeance, who lashed out in maddened hate and fury against a world they believed had wronged them personally.  Let them fall into obscurity, and remember instead the names of those who stood against them in courage, compassion and love.

1 comment:

  1. Well said. Those who defend, raise the sum of life. Those who descend into vengance reduce it and become that they try to avenge. The cycle is called revenge and it never ends.