It has been a tough few weeks, and I wanted to share some thoughts about aggression and violence, and how easily and indirectly violence is fomented, and how banal and vulgar we have become in this digital and multichannel universe in how we deal with violence, broadly defined.
On December 6th we recognised the 23rd anniversary of L’Ecole Polytechnique’s tragedy, and we reminded ourselves of the continuing violence towards women and children. The short ceremony I attended at KPU Surrey was poignant and dignified, with local MLAs and community groups represented, and words from our faculty, the Surrey Women’s Centre, and especially our students.
It was the day after the Kwantlen Student Association Council had agreed to admit the Protectores Vitae group as a fully-fledged club of the KSA, along with the money, privileges and accountability that goes along with that. While disagreeing with the beliefs and aims of the pro-life group, the KSA recognized its right to convene and to organise as a group.
I am very pleased with the dignity and calmness with which the KSA handled itself in the face of what I can only describe as hateful invective, insinuations and threats that they received (as did I, though KPU and the KSA are of course quite distinct entities).
The role of the University is to provide a safe and open space for the discussion, consideration and exploration of all aspects of our world through the arts, sciences and business, broadly defined. I think we do this pretty well at KPU, with the intention of preparing our graduates for good citizenship and for rewarding careers. And we do this peacefully and respectfully while recognizing much diversity of opinion. I’ve witnessed behaviour of some of my peers who should know better.
Humour is often a good coping strategy for difficult issues, but not always. I have been reading Robert Hass’s book “What Light Can Do: Essays on Art, Imagination and the Natural World”, which (at only 20% through according to my Kindle) is the best book I have read this year. In an essay on “Violence, Literature and Immanuel Kant”, he takes you on a survey of history and literature that is strangely comforting (in the sense that these issues have been with us forever), but also disturbing when you consider how easily we could achieve peace.
Hass’s discussion of the role of literature and art and music in describing and understanding conflict and war may help me through the recent news of the murder of 27 people, including 20 young children, in Connecticut.
Hass’s essay will certainly help me endure the awful, knee-jerk and totally inappropriate TV coverage. There is no decency left in the drive for ratings: jumping around between snippets of information. There is an instant need to know about the murderer and his motives, and all the gory details, no doubt with all sorts of misinformation, and with the usual breaks for inappropriate advertising.
Surely, after making sure the incident is over and the survivors are secure, you need to just back off and let everyone grieve. We need some dignity exhibited by the media: give us the confirmed facts, then go to some images and music and poetry that will allow us to share the grief, to hug our own children tightly, and to think deeply what, in the society we are all responsible for, could cause yet another horror. How can we better protect each other, including those who need help with their inability to cope and thus become a danger to us and to themselves?
I once had the idea that every small act of unkindness, or aggression, or lack of courtesy and respect, be it on the road, in athletics, in our work place and particularly within our own families all added to a huge reservoir of violence and intolerance which occasionally boils over, and astonishes us with its intensity and violence. In other words, we are all connected and we are all responsible for creating a peaceful world in every act, both big and small. Like our collective efforts to solve matters of sustainability and climate change, I am as guilty as anyone, but awareness of that, and a willingness to discuss it openly and respectfully, is the first of many steps, right?
Lastly, and this will have to be blogged further another time, the surreal mash-up recently of
- minute by minute updates on the royal (read “celebrity”) pregnancy and all other aspects of their lives,
- the prank of the Australian radio hosts, and
- the dreadful news that the “duped” nurse had died, likely from suicide.
And if you don’t think we are all guilty because of our insane celebrity worship (which the royals share some responsibility for, surely?) which justifies the vulgarity of the media….think again.