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Posts Tagged ‘Se7en’

Sandy Hook

For tonight, I wanted to offer some meta-reflections — that is, reflections on reflections — with regard to the Sandy Hook tragedy.  First, let me quote from my own post from Dec. 18:

In a recent interview with WGRZ (www.wgrz.com), University of Buffalo Department of Psychiatry Chair Steven L. Dubovsky, MD, stated that many perpetrators of these types of crimes do not have any psychiatric illnesses.  Rather, they tend to be “losers” and “cowards” who seek fame and notoriety and think that this is the only way they will be able to achieve it.

I thought it would be worthwhile to explore this a little bit further.  No doubt, the “copycat” occurrences these phenomena tend to inspire illustrate this human tendency very well, even if the people involved do have some sort of special psychological “baggage.”

This is nothing new.  Violent and evil manifestations of the desire to stand out in the midst of mediocrity or apathy — or even, sometimes, to stand out against fashionable wrongs — have been around probably longer than memory or recorded history.

John Doe

An example — albeit fictional — that stands out powerfully in my mind is John Doe (Kevin Spacey), the notorious serious killer in the 1995 film “Se7en.”  Doe, as fans of the film know, chooses his victims and his methods based on each of the Seven Deadly Sins — Pride, Envy, Wrath, Greed, Lust, Gluttony, and Sloth.  He has a sort of mini-monologue at the end that cannot fail to arrest the viewer:

We see a deadly sin on every street corner, in every home, and we tolerate it.  We tolerate it because it’s common — it’s…it’s trivial.  We tolerate it morning, noon, and night.  Well, not anymore.  I’m setting the example.  And what I’ve done is going to be puzzled over and studied and followed forever.

boondock saints

We can see something a little bit similar in Troy Duffy’s 1999 film “The Boondock Saints,” in which two brothers (Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus) embark on what they consider to be a divinely ordained quest to rid Boston of its most evil criminals.  This they do vigilante style, fighting violence with violence.

Duffy’s film is bookended with two very interesting pieces.  At the beginning, a priest gives a sermon in which he tells the story of a woman being beaten and raped while crowds of people pass by and do nothing; at the end, we see what are meant to be interviews with citizens on the street who speak highly of “the saints” (the name given to the two brothers) and, to varying degrees, express their own desire to be able to behave as they do rather than succumb to apathy in the face of society’s evils.

Adam_lanza

Of course, we have no indication that Adam Lanza’s actions were geared toward fighting any kind of evil.  But I use the above examples to illustrate an overarching point: Certain things are so much a part of the human makeup that when we try, as individuals or as collectives, to suppress or ignore them, they don’t go away; instead, they come back to us in distorted, unhealthy, and destructive forms.

In the cases of John Doe and “the saints,” the quality that comes back distorted is the desire for justice.  In the case of those of whom Dr. Dubovsky speaks, the quality is broader in nature (the former can be seen as an example within the scope of this broader quality) — it is the desire to escape mediocrity.

Rediscover Catholicism

Motivational speaker Matthew Kelly, in his book “Rediscover Catholicism: A Spiritual Guide to Living with Passion & Purpose,” speaks of minimalism as one of the prevalent philosophies of our age.  We are constantly asking ourselves what is the least we can do.  Kelly calls this “the enemy of excellence and the father of mediocrity.”

The problem with this philosophy is that each and every one of us is made for excellence.  We are made in the image and likeness of our Creator and placed on this earth for a purpose.  Yet how easily we can succumb to the temptations of comfort, security, or similar things, and take the path of least resistance.

As a result, many of us lead what Henry David Thoreau called “lives of quiet desperation.”

When society as a whole fosters this sort of thing, “shadow” phenomena such as John Doe, “the saints,” and school shooters are bound to surface here and there.  But we all know — at least I hope we all know — that this is not the way to respond to our innate desire to go beyond mediocrity.  In fact, it is counterproductive, having as its end destruction rather than the building-up of the self and others.

The real answer to this quandary of ours is to become saints — real saints, not boondock saints.  It is to love — to give of ourselves without expecting anything in return.  It is to pursue changes in our character, so that we not only do the right things, but desire the right things.  It is also to discover our purpose in life, what we are called to do.  We are all called to discover and cultivate those unique talents in ourselves whereby we may contribute to the growth of truth, goodness, and beauty in the world.

This does not, of course, mean that we must strive for extraordinary feats of heroism.  Some are called to those, yes.  But as Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta famously said:

We cannot do great things on this earth, only small things with great love.

As a Catholic, I believe that in entrusting ourselves to God and prayerfully discerning what it is He wants us to do, we have a sure escape from the “quiet desperation” that would like to haunt us all to the grave.  If more of us live this way, just maybe our “societal subconscious” will feel the need to spit out fewer and fewer John Does, “saints,” and school shooters.

Photos of Sandy Hook and Adam Lanza from http://www.wikipedia.org; photo of “Rediscovering Catholicism” from http://www.amazon.com; remaining images obtained through a Google image search.

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