Last week two young men planted a bomb at the finish line of the Boston marathon and killed several people and hurt many more. Since then social media has been thick with discussion about them, pictures of them, supportive messages for Boston and runners everywhere, and lots and lots of commentary about the men, terrorism, and related issues. At least twice I’ve seen posts on Facebook (I don’t use Twitter) suggesting that it is inappropriate to show sympathy or understanding toward the bombers. One post labeled the men “evil, subhuman”.
So I want to defend my opinion that these men deserve our pity, not our hate. And that if we hate, we hurt ourselves, not the people who have done such grievous wrong.
I pity these men because they were caught up in a system that taught them hatred and lies. I know what it is like to believe lies, and to hate others. It’s not fun. It’s not fulfilling. Frankly, it sucks. I pity them because they cared more about creating a huge dramatic scene in order to have their message heard than they did about human lives. I know that selfishness. I’ve said things that hurt people, or were just self-centered, because I didn’t know how to communicate effectively and because I cared more about being the center of someone’s attention than about whether they or other people experienced pain at my words. I pity these men because they didn’t have the sense to leave the city immediately, but waited around and stole a car and ran from the police, and shot at the police. I know what it’s like to get caught in a web of my own bad decisions, to feel I have no where to run, no where to turn, and no one to blame but myself. I know what it’s like to not only make evil choices, but stupid ones, too. Evil is stupid, but sometimes it’s compounded by further stupidity. I know that game and it’s not fun. I pity them because of the family members they leave heartbroken. I understand the older man had a wife and at least one young child. Imagine being that young child. Imagine going to school where all the other students know your father was a terrorist bomber. Imagine the young widow. Does she have a support network? Does she have any family near her other than the two men who did this, one dead and the other in prison? How will she feed and clothe herself and her child? How will she tell her child who his/her father was and what he did? Can you imagine having to face this? Can you imagine causing that sort of trouble for someone else? I can. I am a constant difficulty to my family. I’m in awe that I even have friends – they are some of the most patient people on the planet.
I have never bombed a major sporting event. I’ve never stolen a car. I’ve never shot at a police officer. I’ve never gotten involved in a terrorist group. I pray God I never do any of those things. But those offenses are different from mine only in degree, not in kind. I don’t really have sympathy for the bombers. I have empathy. Because I’m not that different from them. There but for the grace of God go I.
Every time we choose to dehumanize those who have dehumanized us, we share in their crime. When we choose to hate those who hate us, we do the same thing they are doing. We cannot overcome the hatred of others by hating them in return. We only overcome hatred by choosing love and compassion.
I have “sympathy” (really, it’s more like empathy) for the bombers because I know I’m not that different from them. And I choose love, compassion, and understanding because I refuse to let hatred tear me apart as it did them.