The world can sometimes be a frightening and frustrating place. It is understandable that some of us give in to the urge to lash out at the obvious evil in the world. We want to see bad people punished for doing bad things. We want to think doing so makes the world a safer place. We want to see them punished for reminding us that the world is not as safe was we like. In the rush to do this, in the rush to express our grief, fear, or outrage we post images like this one on our Facebook timelines and Tumblr blogs:
As I said, I understand the fear and outrage that motivates these posts. I can think of nothing more monstrous than preying on children. Child molesters shatter the trust and security of the most vulnerable members of our society. Most of us have, if not children of our own, nephews, nieces, godchildren, or at the least, the beloved children of beloved friends that we want to make certain never suffer at the hands of these twisted individuals. I would, however, call upon you to reject the idea above.
I can hear your arguments now. You believe I want to coddle monsters. Perhaps you would label me a bleeding heart, a label I generally wear with pride, but does not apply, at least not in the way you would think, here. You may feel the need to apply any number of other unflattering labels to me, labels that say more about you than about me. You may question my morality, my empathy, or my very standing as a human being. Though doing so speaks ill of you, I will do none of those things to you.
Because in a way, you do them to yourself. I get the urge for vengeance. We all want to lash out at the darkness, to give us a sense of security, the thing is, it does not provide that security, it only gnaws away at us, it makes us so much less than the amazing creatures we are. Justice is about harmony (if I may quote Katie Holmes in Batman Begins.) Vengeance is not harmony. It is the continuation of anger, it is the will to power when we feel powerless. It is not about making the world safer for the victims it is about making ourselves believe we are safer, stronger, or superior.
When we seek to lash out, to punish, we create a rift between ourselves and the other. We create outcomes that we cannot undo. How much more psychic harm would you do to yourself if you followed the advice of the above image, only to find out the villain was victim? How do you undo the mental and physical harm you have done to them if and when you find out you have inflicted it on someone wrongfully convicted? Mind you I still think you do yourself harm by wishing this on the truly guilty, but do you believe you could carry the weight of knowing your words and/or actions brought this on an innocent?
This lesson, by the way, extends beyond this particular crime. Too often I see fellow social justice warriors cry “eat the rich.” I get angry at the economic elite in this country. I cuss them out for their short-sighted cruelty and lack of sense of community. I truly believe a handful of them are truly evil individuals whose actions we need to oppose and whose power we need to check. That said, I do not wish harm upon them. Keep in mind that these are people whose actions and decisions cause misery for hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of people. They are just as “evil,” in perhaps a more abstract way, as any child molester. Still, wanting to harm them for the sake of punishment diminishes me. I am the stronger, better, person, for wanting to reach out and educate them
This does not mean we don’t hold these people accountable. Both groups of people, when found guilty, need to be rehabilitated if possible, and if not, warehoused away from others so they can do no harm. They need their power (and keep in mind, any rape, whether of an adult or a child, is about power) taken from them so that we may make our world safer. We can do this without doing harm to them, and through that action, to ourselves. Spreading messages like that in today’s meme spreads the love of anger. It encourages to weigh ourselves down with fear and unthinking righteousness. We can and should do better, for ourselves, and for those whom we seek justice for.