Saturday, April 21, 2007

Tragedy At Virgina Tech

This past week I've been reading and following everything on the Virginia Tech shootings, and especially on the person responsible for the tragedy, Cho Seung-Hui. I've also noted in some of these news reports that many in the Korean community here as well as in Korea feel a sense of responsibility, because the shooter was Korean-American. I've known Koreans in my life due to my past study of Tae Kwon Do, and they are an interesting and remarkable people. Their ethnic sense of their "Korean-ness" is probably stronger than perhaps almost any other ethnic group's concept of self-identity, due to aspects of their history, geography, and culture, and therefore having that insight, I can see where many in the Korean community might instinctively feel a sense of collective shame over this terrible event. This is one instance though, where being an American allows me to offer a perspective that is quite the opposite of this. At least with regard to this particular event, I have heard no condemnation of Koreans because of what happened at Virginia Tech. It had become increasingly clear toward the end of this week that Cho Seung-Hui was suffering from probably a number of mental issues, some perhaps biological in nature, and having that compounded by contexts where it seems he was ridiculed or made to feel "set apart" because of these issues, which I believe most likely had a strongly genetic or deterministic component to them, was unable to contain his rage and pain any longer. That, is not the fault of an entire ethnic community, but rather the tragedy of the greater community at large, which apparently missed so many of his previous cries for help.

Many of these type of instances seem to be occurring not in America's inner cities, or other considered stereotypical centers of violence, but in the more well-to-do suburbs or now on prestigious campuses, which are fed from these communities. These suburbs and campuses are very homogeneous in nature, very well off, very white (with "honorary" status for some minorities, as long as they aren't "too" minority), and very much places where if one does not fit the "template" of these communities, there can be a price to be paid. A popular catch phrase from such communities is "Work Hard, Play Hard", and many from these advantaged places can in fact embody such self-agrandizing or superficial concepts. There, however, really does need to be some more self-examination as to why these tragedies seem to occur over and over in places of privilege, rather than "where you might expect them" to occur. Maybe some of these booze binging centers, such as our own flagship university, University of Colorado at Boulder, are not entirely the centers of the "best and the brightest", but perhaps as well the centers of advantaged and overprivileged children of greedy, ambitious parents? I know that's a controversial statement, especially right now, but then again I've seen and experienced such places, so I can offer an opinion from personal experience. Maybe when such institutions and communities as these finally truly make an effort to become more heterogeneous in nature, more inclusive of all people, and all types of people, they can then begin to educate themselves to the notion that diversity is in fact a strength of a community, and that those who are "different", for whatever reason, deserve the support of their given community rather than their ridicule or condemnation. Only a diverse community could have helped Cho Seung-Hui, and prevented this terrible tragedy, as someone from amongst that multitudinous diversity would have had the courage, capability and compassion to reach out in a significant way to such an obviously disturbed young man. But when everyone is the same, doing the same, being the same, all even living out the same catch phrases such as so-called "working hard and playing hard", struggling desperately to fit the template and be anything but "different", Cho Seung-Hui is probably the last guy you'd want to be hanging out with. Yes, he did a horrible, horrendous bad thing. I suspect however that people with mental illness exist in all levels of our society, and we really do finally need to begin to take a serious look at why these events seem to happen where they do, and don't seem to happen where we "might think they would".


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