Today’s most glaring headline was about a woman at a Memorial Day backyard barbecue stabbing another woman in the eye with a fork over an argument for the last rib on a plate.
The one with the fork claimed it was self-defense. The other, she said, was coming at her with a knife.
Two things about this matter leap out:
First, the seeming triviality of what they were arguing over.
Second, the seeming closeness of the combatants. They knew each other well enough to be sharing a holiday, backyard barbecue.
Being attacked or even killed by someone you know seems to be getting easier & easier. It’s the same story in the news so often, occurring typically at a supposedly happy event — a holiday barbecue, a wedding reception, a birthday party…An argument arises, fists fly — a knife comes out — a gun is fired.
Who brings a weapon to a party is something to address later. But first…
The problem is not the triviality of what they were arguing over (who gets the last rib). The problem is: how much of one’s entire life does a person put into such a triviality! Who gets vs. who yields becomes a matter of life & death! Making the stakes so high is their pitifully prideful egos. A person is so inflexible that yielding means dying. One’s entire existence is invested in the triviality. Yielding is seen as a mortal wound to one’s ego.
I dare say this way of thinking about one’s self occurs in the life of someone who does not HAVE a life.
There is not enough in a person’s life to balance a “loss” in one matter or another. A great relationship, a meaningful job, children to share one’s self with, happiness, self-esteem over the way one looks…(Has anybody else noticed how often the combatants are awfully overweight?) All of these positives are missing from the person’s life. Nothing exists to create balance. Every incident of conflict becomes deadly because the person’s entire self is invested in the outcome of the triviality. They can’t take a “loss.” They don’t have enough in their lives to counter the disappointment.
I find a similarity in a boyfriend who gets dumped, but he can’t accept it — he stalks the former girlfriend. A restraining order is obtained — doesn’t matter. He shows up — kills both her and her new boyfriend.
That setback of getting dumped has become his whole world, absorbing his entire self. He has nothing else in his life to balance the loss.
At a lesser level of danger is what people like me go through who are sports officials (umpires and referees). I have umpired Little League games where the coaches or the parents simply can not deal with disappointment. Their team’s loss can not be attributed to the bare fact that their team wasn’t good enough. The adults have too much self-identity invested in the success of the team. Thus, their team’s loss must be due to some other cause — and the umpires are their easy targets.
It has gotten to the point where when sports officials attend clinics for training, part of the instruction is what to do if you are assaulted or harassed, like by somebody following you to your car after the game.
Which brings us to No. 2 — the second most obvious thing about these headlines of people getting attacked or even killed at a party or a bar or a wedding reception. They don’t know how to argue! They don’t know how to go back & forth and resolve a dispute. A comment is made — immediately, fists fly, a knife comes out, a gun comes out.
It’s also the reason why people BRING a gun or a knife to a wedding reception or a birthday party. They know of no other way to resolve a conflict. And they know they’re going to be among OTHERS who are packing.
I can’t help thinking of Socrates’ saying, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
People have not taken the time to do the important work of thinking about their lives — thinking about why they act the way they do. The likely result is, they act only the way they have seen OTHERS act — worst of all, the adults in their lives. If dad slugged mom during an argument, the kids have their template. How many hulking, millionaire football players resort to punching out the woman they’re living with? Domestic violence is often inherited — not genetically, but habitually. They’ve seen so much of it — they themselves react that way.
They have not taken the time to THINK — why do I do the things I do?
They have not found others from which to learn — how does one argue without making a fist or reaching for a weapon?