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Opinions are fun. My friends tell me I am someone with lots of opinions and that's fine since I don't get mad at others when they disagree with me. In this same spirit I am interested in hearing yours views as long as you are able to share your views without boiling over. I look forward to hearing from you. I tend to write in the form of short essays most of the time, but contributions do not need to be in this same format or size. Some of the content here will date itself pretty quickly, other content may be virtually timeless, this is for the reader to judge.


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Intolerance runs amuck                                                                                     Print this essay

Posted at: Feb/12/2014 : Posted by: mel

Related Category: Behavior, Common Sense, Society,

A moviegoer in Florida asks another man to stop texting during the previews. A few words are exchanged. One of the men leaves the theater, returning a short while later. Additional words are exchanged. The man who had been texting his babysitter flings popcorn at the other man. The man, who had left the theater and then returned, defends himself against the force of popcorn by shooting the man with a hand gun. Clearly, common sense is lost and venturing out to the mall has become a dangerous expedition.

In our age of instant information we are also deluged with a tide of instant opinions.

There has been a wealth of comments comparing this shooting to the July 2012 movie theater shooting in Aurora Colorado. The similarities in truth end with the observation that this was a tragic situation in a theater. In Aurora, a mentally disturbed man used an automatic weapon on a crowd of moviegoers with no apparent goal other than some loose association with the movie the “The Dark Knight Rises.” In the Florida shooting a dispute between two individuals rapidly escalated beyond reason and common sense.

Some columns have focused on Florida and pointed to their “Stand Your Ground Laws.” There is no doubt that Florida is at the leading edge of a group of states who are redefining “Self Defense.” The defense attorney in this case has not used self-defense in their initial argument so merely being in Florida is not enough to find that relationship viable. This is supported further by witness statements saying the deceased flung popcorn at the man who ultimately shot him. I don’t think anyone would accept the notion that flying popcorn creates an imminent threat to one’s safety or life. I have not read of any documented case of “threat of popcorn” as creating a real or perceived risk to anything accept one’s waistline.

There has been renewed energy questioning gun ownership in America. I totally concur with the idea that there are too many guns in America. The notion of making guns more difficult to buy and restricting what types of weapons are available for purchase does not offend me. Nevertheless, this situation is not about legitimate ownership. The Florida shooter was respected as a law enforcement professional with decades of experience. It seems to me this is the type of person we enthusiastically hope is armed while in plain clothes walking through the mall or sitting in a theater.

In American western history, one of the more notorious characters was John Wesley Harden. Mr. Harden was remembered for the rough and violent life that he lived. In his autobiography, rather than deny any of his deeds, he instead glorified them. Harden tells the story that as a cattle drover, he and the other cowboys he was with had an opportunity to stay in town one night instead of sleeping on the trail. Apparently, a man in the next room over was snoring loudly so Harden fired five shots through the wall to shut him up. Having killed the man the snoring was no longer a concern and Harden had a restful night. There is no doubt that the American west of that era was a rough and dangerous place, best suited for only the toughest of individuals. Regardless, shooting a man for snoring loudly is just depraved regardless of the era.

I would like to believe that our society has come a long way in the last 150 years, but sometimes events happen that challenge that notion.

Perhaps at a different level, what this tragic situation at a theater in Florida speaks to is our growing intolerance for what is perceived as “annoying behavior.” It was not that many years ago that we started reading of the first and now very common instances of “road rage.” Shooting someone or slamming into them because they cut you off or didn’t merge in a manner you accept seems to fall into the same bucket. I am reminded of the 1976 satirical movie ‘Network’. Newscaster Howard Beale, played by Peter Finch rants “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” Our modern world is a very intense place where we are bombarded with information and activity from many directions on a continuous basis. The desire to snap and subsequently yell out like the fictional Howard Beale is really not practical despite how appealing it may seem.

As little children we come into the world as pretty selfish little creatures. This selfishness at the beginning is not a bad thing, it helps parents to know when to feed, change and perform other important services for us as babies. As we grow, our parents have a responsibility to teach, and we have a responsibility to learn how to put that selfishness aside. This includes learning to take care of our own needs, wait our turn, and move on when we don’t get our way. If you are a parent, all this makes great sense. These are all important skills that must be learned in order to participate in an intense and crowded society.

Technology has created a whole new set of annoying behavior challenges. I am personally frustrated by the person on the elevator who is loudly talking to someone via Bluetooth/cell phone connection; this makes it difficult for me to converse with the person who is actually standing next to me. Texting and other cell phone activity can be very annoying in many environments. I have been in a theater while the person sitting in front of me was busily hammering out a text or twitter message. Not only was the light from their smart phone, a distraction in the darkened theater, but their phone was set to make a clicking noise every time they entered a character. I leaned over and asked that they take the message outside and was replied to with a host of obnoxious words and the concluding phrase “it’s a free country.” I left the theater, found a manager, and asked for a refund. The manager obliged and I went home to enjoy my television in the comfort of my own family room.

I believe strongly that America is a free country, but that comes with obligations. Any society includes reasonable expectations of behavior when so many people live, work and function around so many others. There is, or should be a consideration for the personal space each of us hope to enjoy and how our actions impact others. Beyond that, reasonable behavior matters. Texting in a theater, whether previews or not is inconsiderate, but responding with a gun is an unacceptable response.

The theater shooting on January 13th of 2014 is a tragedy. The behavior of the individual with the cell phone was definitely inconsiderate. It is also entirely possible that the verbal response that followed included some less than glowing metaphors. I know that if I had popcorn flung at me, my movie going experience would be soured, but a John Wesley Harden type response is unacceptable. The gun didn’t do it; the person with the gun did it. Personal accountability matters and regardless of any distinguished career in law enforcement, the man with the gun should pay.

I would like to believe that I show respect for nearly everyone I encounter whether in the mall or on the freeway. There are times when I fail at respect and attempt merely to show tolerance. On the rare occasion that I fail at the respect or tolerance behavior…I walk away and likely finish my day with a beer.

This is not about the gun, the cell phone, or the popcorn. This is a clear challenge to our society. Can we enter public places and be respectful and tolerant of others? If and when the other person fails to respect each of us, can we choose to walk away? All of us have opinions about the people with the rude behavior that we encounter, but if we respond with violence, we have moved beyond the acceptable limits of regular society. We need to tolerate each other, and be considerate. The Wild West is now just a part of history, but even 150 years ago, shooting someone for rude behavior was unacceptable.

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Martin Luther King, Jr.
The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
 
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