Cook: Connecting the Penn State and 'Dark Knight' Massacres

Cook: Connecting the Penn State and 'Dark Knight' Massacres

July 24th, 2012 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

Three days after the mass shooting at the "Dark Knight Rises" premiere in Colorado, the NCAA ruled against Penn State for the years of pedophiliac violence committed by an assistant coach in the football program.

The two events are not unrelated.

Both are forms of violence, and violence is not mysterious. Not unknowable. The worst we can do is pretend it is.

We may never know the inner psychology of James Holmes - the man arrested in the Colorado shootings - or Jerry Sandusky, the coach who could be sentenced to more than 370 years in prison after being found guilty of sexually abusing 10 boys.

But each story is a small part in the larger machine of violence. Slowing down this machine means we must begin to understand the way violence works, its effect on us and its antidote.

The word "violence" comes from the Latin word "violare," which means "violate and dishonor." Speaking in modern terms, we must extend the definition past one that implies hurt or pain. Your dentist does not commit violence by pulling your tooth. She may hurt you, temporarily, but her motives are usually pure and ethical.

Violence, then, is more than pain. Violence, as peace scholar Dr. Michael Nagler puts it, tears at the fabric of life. It is unnatural. Lions eat lambs, and yes, nature can be red in tooth and claw. But this is part of the ecological landscape of life. It is natural in a way that preventable violence is not.

Violence is rape. Violence is genocide. Violence is sexually abusing 10-year-old boys. Violence is being silent about it. Violence is walking into a midnight theater and pulling the trigger 100 times. It destroys and devastates the beauty and sacredness of life.

That is the work of violence. Its properties, while traumatic, are pretty simple. Violence never heals. Never reconciles or redeems. And like some mathematical law, the effects of violence continue outward, expanding and multiplying until the cycle is interrupted.

Look inside your own life. The wounds and harm done by others create a limp of sorts. When others hurt us, we want to take that pain and place it somewhere else. We kick the dog because our boss was mean. We yell because we were insulted. We abuse because we were abused.

The opposite of this goes by several names, none of which is readily accepted as serious terms in our modern discourse.

Love.

Peace.

Nonviolence.

Why is it that I've never heard a president use the term "nonviolence" in a State of the Union? What are the odds either presidential candidate will call on his fellow Americans to love each other more?

Why is it that our schools graduate seniors who have been required to take years of courses in mathematics, science and literature, but not one required hour of the principles of nonviolence?

Gandhi called nonviolence the most powerful force in the universe. More powerful than fear and violence.

Love is more than an emotion, more than the stuff of young adult fiction and Woodstock. Love is the recognition of the dignity of all life, and the decision to act in ways that honor that.

Forgiveness, reconciliation, the decision to love others, the science of meditation, the practice of nonviolent resistance - all of these must be talked about, studied and made forefront in our modern discourse.

Until then, we continue to commit the crime of pretending that violence is random and unpredictable. One of the most disconcerting things about the events in Colorado was that moviegoers thought the shooter, who walked in the emergency exit door wearing a gas mask and armed with three weapons, was part of the show. Part of the entertainment.

We must not make the mistake of thinking the same thing about violence.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DCookTFP.