05 March 2008

Sickness and Evil

Over the weekend, a horrific crime happened fairly close to home, geographically speaking. It involved a teenager and three others killing the teenager’s family, including her eight and thirteen year old brothers. The father of the family, at last report, was still in a bad way in the hospital. A number of my students wanted to spend a few minutes talking about it.

I asked those who did want to talk about it to describe the actions of the killers using as few words as possible, one being preferable. Responses included sick, stupid (this one struck me as a bit inane for the topic), schizophrenic, bipolar, and evil. Two of those responses actually require making a judgment about the perpetrators. One of those two is just...stupid. The other three, even if the students don’t realize it, attempt to explain the actions of the perpetrators while actually deflecting blame away from the perpetrators.

What might not be immediately obvious – and I admit that I pay more attention than the average person to individual words – is that if it is said that a criminal is “sick” (insert mental illness here), then that criminal might theoretically not be responsible for his or her actions. It’s a potential way out.

I didn’t press the conversation too much, as there were more pressing things to do in class. It was just a slice of the day that I thought was interesting, possibly telling. The one kid who called it evil, I think, hit it on the head. Too bad I got three answers of “stupid” in the process.

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