“He’d grown up just like me
My boy was just like me.” — Harry Chapin
Occasionally you see something in the news that you have to sit on for a few days. The horrible mass shooting in Colorado Springs is one of those moments. It isn’t the mass shooting itself. There have been deadlier and more tragic mass shootings in recent months. It wasn’t the fact that a specific group was targeted. We’ve seen that before too. It wasn’t the complete inaction following the event. That’s become the norm.
It was the reaction from the father of the shooter. Of course, before I get into that I need to offer some perspective. There are moments when we disappoint our parents. I still do it at times. There are moments when we are disappointed in our children. The worst moments come when we have to either apologize for their actions or when our parents had to apologize for us. I can still remember these moments as many as 40 years later and it is impossible to completely wash away the shame.
In a very generic way I feel a ton of empathy for the parents of mass shooters. This is particularly true for the ones with children that die during those events. They lost a child just like the families of the victims. They have to mourn both their child and those their child took. They have to do it privately because no one is going to feel an ounce of compassion for them. In many cases, they will be blamed for not doing enough to stop it. More over, there is very little they can say that will take any sting off.
Having said all of that, the shooter’s father failed the basic empathy test. He said virtually nothing that could soothe anyone in the wake of this event. All he could muster was the sentiment that at least his son wasn’t gay. He showed no concern for the victims. Somehow, killing five people and injuring two dozen others was somehow preferable to his son being there socially.
A part of me wanted to come on here immediately afterwards and just completely lay into him. Maybe it would have been cathartic. I suppose in a sense it would have made me feel better. However, that would be temporary. All of the snark and all of the vitriol wouldn’t be able to erase the fact that evil like that exists in the world.
It also wouldn’t erase the fact that I have disappointed my parents on occasion. I wouldn’t be able to soothe those feelings. It wouldn’t erase the times where we have been disappointed in our daughter. We are proud of her 99 times out of 100. I’m not sure if the same ratio exists with my parents. Still, it is human nature to dwell on the times where we have failed.
There is a whole subtext in daytime television dedicated to the concept of schadenfreude and self-loathing. Watch enough talk shows and court shows and you will find yourself uttering, “at least I’m more together than that girl/guy” or “at least our family isn’t like them.”
There is a reason they say that schadenfreude is “shameful joy.” We are not made better when we witness examples of questionable humanity. We are not made better by comparison even if it might feel that way. We are worse in the collective. Our families are worse off. Our communities are worse off. Our nation and world is worse off. It leaves a hole in our collective heart. It creates the second worst feeling in the world. It is the feeling we get when we have to explain to our children why the world is a dangerous place.