In our increasingly politically correct and bifurcated world, it seems the human instinct to pass judgment on people or events has only grown more acute. And, with that judgment, the punishment meted is often out of proportion—and possibly wrongly targeted– to the actual event, not to mention seldom without the facts being known or contemplated.
The things that trigger this response of outrage and anger are as varied as the human experience allows.
A prominent celebrity dies by his own hand. There are simultaneous outpourings of grief and vituperation.
A cop shoots a minority youth and the world rises up in arms.
A sports team owner is castigated and stripped of his ownership rights for uttering intemperate thoughts in what was thought to be a private—but turned out to be an illegally taped—conversation.
This is not to say that, in the case of racially or ethnically-charged incidents especially, people should merely accept the initial “official” version of events.
Initial statements regarding any occurrence should always be taken as simply putting out information as it is known at the time. The actual “facts’ invariably come later.
The inestimable Robin Williams died, an apparent suicide, while suffering from a debilitating mental disease. All manner of ill-informed commentary ensued as to his financial status, his well-known history of substance abuse, even the very nature of what depression is and is not.
In the same week, Michael Brown, a black youth, was gunned down by a policeman in a St. Louis suburb and almost immediately there were riots in the streets, death threats against the officer involved, and national protests against police brutality. Within days, however, details surrounding the shooting have made the events surrounding the incident anything but clear cut.
Donald Sterling seems to be everyone’s favorite sports mogul to hate. After all, he uttered the dreaded “N-word”—albeit privately—and for that reason, he can no longer own an NBA franchise. The concern other owners expressed over the relative severity of the punishment, and whether they could be similarly dealt with for unspecified transgressions was similarly demonized. The response was instant, and it was harsh.
I wonder who among us, on reflection, can say they have never made a bigoted statement toward any other person or group in private conversation? If we are honest with ourselves, I would say virtually no one has. Not right, perhaps, but reality.
None of this makes these reactions—and countless other, similar circumstances—right or wrong. But thorough review of facts paints a very different picture than what too many of us react to, or remember. Rushing to judgment seldom ensures a dispassionate or righteous outcome.
There has been a lot of talk in the past few years about “teachable moments.” I think the phraseology is wrong. Most parents and school teachers will tell you that it isn’t what you teach that is important or meaningful to the student. It is what they learn. I wish we would learn something from these events.