Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Code

Mark Bennett asked "what's your code?" the other day and I responded "There isn't anyone you couldn't love once you've heard their story." An anonymous commenter then responded that:

Yes, we must love all rapists, molesters and murderers.

After all, they do have a story…

Big hugs and kisses to you, Elijah Joubert, Bobby Cutts Jr., Dexter Johnson, Antonio Williams, and Jonathan and Reginald Carr!

And more for you, Jeffrey Dahmer and Angel Resendez!

You guys rock!

And then, it was on! People were trading bible verses back and forth, accusing each other of lacking a sense of humor and pretty much resorting to name calling.

But I'm trying to learn another code that teaches me to think of people's real reactions not as a reason to get judgmental, but as gifts that can teach me something.

So, I asked myself, does this person have a point? I thought of a story I heard when I was a public defender when another p.d. told me she lived in Omaha close to the area where Danny Joe Eberle disappeared. He was one of John Joubert's victims and he was a paperboy, delivering the Omaha World Herald when he was abducted and killed. Danny was 13 then and I was 16, 200 miles away.

My colleague told me the whole city was different after that and that it's never been the same as it went from a place where people let their kids run freely into an area where they weren't allowed out of your sight.

So, let's be honest. If Anonymous C's point is that it would be hard to love the guy who did this, I'll admit it. But it's too late, he's dead anyway, killed in teh electric chair before it was found cruel and unusual.

But the point of a code isn't to speak the truth, it's to set the tone. I'm not saying that I could love John Joubert if he could just tell me his story, only that most people aren't anything like John Joubert.

It seems to me that even if Joubert can change the city, the way we treat our kids, the wrong thing to do is to start assuming there's a potential Joubert next door. While there are sick, evil people in the world, I haven't met very many.

So I'm not advocating having a cold one with Dahmer to find out what traumatic event triggered cannabilism, only that allowing evil people like that to change our outlook is letting them win.

Last summer, a person in my neighborhood shot his ex-boss on the street less than a mile from my office downtown, and then shot himself. When I came home for lunch that day, my daughter was concerned that there was a cop in front of a house. I told her it was nothing and not to worry, but later that night we found out he lived about two blocks from us. His next door neighbor appeared on the news that night, pointing out bullet holes in his own house that had come from his neighbor. He hadn't felt safe enough to report it when the guy was alive, but now he was speaking out.

Live t.v. news featured the police pulling things out of the house all evening, as all kinds of guns and chemicals were found. I was shocked that a killer lived in my neighborhood and felt guilty about minimizing my own child's fear.

But what happened that night was remarkable. The entire neighborhood switched off their t.v.'s and came out to watch the cops and the t.v. crews in person. We met neighbors we'd never seen before and talked to neighbors like we never had before. Then, the guy who appeared on t.v. asked us if we were interested in having a neighborhood party. People spoke up and volunteered to bring side dishes. A date was chosen and grills were lined up. It was the man's idea, but the whole neighborhood stepped up to have a party to get to know each other and to turn something bad into something to celebrate.

The t.v. new focused on the "if it bleeds, it leads" portion of the story, but few of the neighbors spoke of the guy, now dead, who brought us all together, through his last desperate act.

So, when I listened to an audiobook about Mr. Rogers and heard one of his favorite quotes was "there isn't anyone you couldn't love once you've heard their story," I borrowed it as my own code.

It probably doesn't apply to everyone, but it's better to assume it does until you learn otherwise than to start seeing a potential John Joubert in everyone you meet.

My favorite criminal justice professor told the story of working undercover as Ted Bundy's cellmate, to try to get him to show his evil side after he was so cool and calm with investigators. After I was intrigued by the story, as an 18-year old freshman, I kept asking the professor how it was possible for Bundy to be so inhuman, to kill one day and then be so smooth the next, the professor finally told me not to waste my time trying to figure Bundy out.

"He's pure evil," he said. "Better not to waste your time on people like that when there are so many great people out there in the world."

Anonymous C has a great point as there are people whose story isn't going to make you love them. But, like Bundy and Joubert, or even Hitler, they're so rare that we need only one name.

Hopefully you never meet one as you're out there looking for love and listening to people's stories. A code isn't necessarily the truth; it's what you hope to find.

1 comment:

randomosity0123 said...

I was just reading Clarence Darrow's argument in the Leopold and Loeb case, it's a great example of humanizing people who seem to be inhuman.