Aerosmith’s “Living on the Edge” played on the radio station I was listening to a few weeks ago. I hadn’t heard the song in years. I’d forgotten not only how good it is, but how relevant it has remained.
I grew up in a time where kids played outside, and sure, there was some degree of bullying even in my youth, but never to the degree that it exists today. No matter who you were — jock, nerd, or whatever other label had been attributed somehow to each individual — you had a place in some crowd. Everyone belonged somewhere. You didn’t have to find friends online — indeed, there was no online then — let alone find out those so-called friends weren’t really who they claimed to be and, on top of that, weren’t really your friends.
I grew up in a time where people knew their neighbors — perhaps even a little too much, like how Mrs. X had a disturbing preoccupation with sweeping the driveway twice a day. I grew up in a time where people — young and old — really weren’t isolated, sitting behind screens all day, possibly stuck in some perverted scene or another without a sense of compassion for humanity or grip on reality.
I grew up in a time where spanking wasn’t considered child abuse. I grew up in a time where there were real consequences for even minor transgressions at an early age, where kids were reined in long before the vast majority could ever go too far.
I grew up in a time where people for the most part knew how to interact with each other appropriately face to face, understood the difference between fantasy — even dark fantasy — and real life.
This is not to say there wasn’t war, murder, rape, or other horrors humankind inflicted upon each other. Perhaps I am under the delusion that certain incidents are more common today than they were then. Perhaps it was that we didn’t hear as much about these tragedies because we simply weren’t as interconnected then as we are now.
Still, is anyone really content with the current state of affairs, whether they’ve gotten worse or (I say with a large degree of skepticism) perhaps even better, statistically speaking?
Yeah, me neither.
There’s something wrong with the world today. The light bulb’s getting dim.
But what can be done?
Even more frustrating than ensuing arguments about gun control, corporal punishment, law, etc., is the thought — perhaps truth — that there really is nothing that will stop this insanity… at least nothing from a large-scale perspective.
So this is where I return once again to the issue of individual responsibility. Each and every one of us has got to be personally responsible for our actions in this world. While I do not endorse any religious belief system here, I did find some of what this Christian Science Monitor article had to say reasonable — specifically the first half. The following quote was particularly thought-provoking:
“The ultimate goal is reliable protection.”
While law enforcement, weapons regulation, etc., can potentially assist in the reduction of violent ends, they will never be able to prevent violence entirely. All these things do is serve to temper the swell. They are a treatment of the symptoms, not a solution. They will never be able to stop all evils, though they may thankfully head some off at the pass. They will never be a cure for the dark desires we all have but that rise to the surface for some people, who subsequently act out such fantasies.
Which is why heroes like Batman are so appealing in the first place. Heroes remind us of the good that also exists in people. They help us — particularly as children — to feel safe in an otherwise unpredictable and therefore terrifying world.
But the world is unpredictable, and that is and should be terrifying. Let’s not forget that even Bruce Wayne possessed the awareness that safety is an illusion — a lesson he learned as a child, when he witnessed his own parents’ murder.
He also illustrates why personal responsibility is so important. He could have taken what happened to him and let it warp him into a villain. Instead, he chose to be a force of good.
But even he stands as an example of how problematic “fighting” for peace truly is. He wreaked vengeance upon those responsible for his parents’ murder, which gives the character dimension, though he would’ve been prosecuted in our justice system for assault at the very least whether we consider it justifiable or not. The injustice he suffered as a child served to drive him toward helping others — but sadly, this requires violence to counter violence.
Guns and people kill people, but so do knives and people and fists and people. What’s the common denominator? People. We all have it within ourselves to be forces of evil or hate, just as we all have it within ourselves to be forces of good or love. We can all be knights fighting for the good of humankind or get swallowed up in the abyss of our own dark nights.
But the fight is really never with others. It’s strictly with ourselves. Batman’s cause is utterly hopeless, when you really think about it, because even his fighting against criminals can’t transform the root of the problem in the first place, which is in all criminals’ minds — and in each and every one of ours.
You can help yourself from falling. In fact, you’re really the only one who can. (This is where Steven Tyler and I disagree.)
In spite of all of those wonderful toys comic book characters have, and in spite of those heroes’ most benevolent intentions, real heroism resides in each of us; it manifests itself as the responsibility we take for our own self-control as individuals. No one else can take personal responsibility for the mastering of the self or its dark side. And though I’m sure it’s of no consolation to any of the lives touched by the Aurora, Colo., tragedy — to whom my thoughts and prayers go out to — I do believe this is the only logical solution to the problem, the only thing that can possibly prevent such atrocities from happening again in the future.