The need to find common ground

April 20, 2001|By Abe Novick

ERIC HARRIS. Dylan Klebold. Young Andy Williams. Two years ago today it happened in Columbine. And it keeps happening. A kid blows away his classmates. We are shocked. We are appalled. We stare in disbelief at the news. It makes no sense.

Then the questions come. Why? And, who is to blame? The parents, of course. No, it's the media. It's that darn Eminem. All of the above?

It's even bigger than that.

So before we lock up every kid who looks like a loner and seal off the entrances and exits of every school with armed guards and metal detectors, we should look even deeper into the cause of such actions.

Causality is actually a pretty big concept. It can be traced back to Cain and Abel and the Big Bang. For now, let's just look to when modernity was born - to the last half of the 19th century when Nietzsche proclaimed "God Is Dead."

Whatever your concept of God (just think something higher than ourselves for now), his pronouncement was one of those iconoclastic declarations and moments in history that turned the world on its head. Like when Copernicus discovered that we revolve around the sun, not the other way around.

If God was dead, as Nietzsche said, then nothing made any sense anymore. If there was no ultimate good, then there was no evil, either.

So what's to stop any of us from doing anything anymore? When it's all just a matter of how I perceive something to be, I can create my own reality. No longer can I be told that something is bad. Who says? God? Not anymore. About the same time, Dostoyevsky's "Crime and Punishment" was published. He was a religious man, by the way.

He writes about a student named Raskolnikov who, on a whim, decides to drive an axe into this old lady's head.

Partly as a reaction to the Enlightenment, reason and rational thought, the last half of the 19th century ushered in the perception of a valueless and meaningless world. That thinking had many followers and splinter factions as well as misguided political reactionaries throughout the 20th century.

Our 21st century culture is not unique in its irrational violence. But our culture has been lost. And being lost has caused us to veer from the extreme left to the far right.

But what if we all agreed the best way to stop being lost is to first find north - something higher than us. A common ground.

Because before we hire more armed guards and build more prisons, we had better ask ourselves "Why." The big why, not the little one. Not why did that little boy pull the trigger. But, why would any little boy pull a trigger?

We don't ask those kinds of big questions any more. What is good? What is right? Metaphysics and ethics have been outmoded by more tangible questions like, "How much."

Unless we challenge ourselves by looking for a true north, we'll continue circling and doing laps unable to ever find an answer. Because there is no answer in a world where none exists.

Abe Novick is senior vice president of strategic business development for Baltimore-based Eisner Communications.

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