Monday, January 10, 2011

Sorry. It IS a human act.

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot this past weekend. So was a federal judge, John Roll, and well as a nine-year-old girl. Roll and the girl, along with 4 others, are dead. Giffords, the target, is critically injured. Twelve others are also recovering.

People have wanted to politicize this, de-politicize this, to say it indicates what is wrong with the US, to say our thoughts should be with the families... Fair enough. All that is open to debate. However, one take on this whole situation that truly bothers me is when people like Rep. John Boenher call this an "inhuman" act.  They are so, so wrong.

This was a particularly human act. This was premeditated murder--not for food, nor for protection, but for an idea, an abstraction, no matter how twisted it was. Only humans do this.  Self-awareness, sanity, and ethics come with a price. That price is being humanly culpable for our actions. Our actions, for good or bad, reflect our thoughts, choices, and relationship to society.

When someone commits a horrible act, we do not have the luxury of deciding "this act was no longer human." This is a cheap and shallow response, for it ignores our responsibility as fellow humans to check ourselves, our actions, and our relationships with others. Calling such a crime inhuman gives us the false security that "normal people don't do things like this," when time and time again it's been shown that when they lose their trust and their hope and their moral compass, normal people can be swayed to commit abominable acts.

As humans, we are all potential murderers, potential criminals. Acts like this shooting should not foster thinking that "we" need to keep out crazies like "them." Instead, it should sober us and temper our words and actions toward each other. Perhaps we should all be a little bit more compassionate today, a little nicer to ourselves and to each other. All of us can, and do, fall and fail. The lucky ones have someone there to catch them, forgive them, help them heal, and teach them a better way.