Tragedy And The Ugliness Of The Human Race

Are there ever times in life where you start to lose faith in your fellow-man?  When people’s characters seem so ugly that you wonder how it is we got this far and why we seem to be getting worse and not better?

Today has been one of those days.  But before I get into the details, I need to share a little back story.

A week or so ago, I received a friend request on Facebook from someone I went to junior high with.  Now, my middle school years were my ugly ones.  Quite literally.  I was a geeky girl with frizzy hair, a mouth full of metal, skin that made the Proactiv ladies millions, and glasses that took up half of my face.  Needless to say, I was not popular and don’t look very fondly on those formative years.  So when I got a request from Peter, I didn’t immediately accept it.

I was a little surprised to even get a request from him.  He was one of the popular guys who was actually decent and not a total jerk to everyone.  We went to the same high school though I rarely saw him and I can honestly say, I haven’t thought of him since I graduated.  Since I did have fond memories of him, I went ahead and accepted the request as I figured he was trying to reach out to people from our class in lieu of our ten-year reunion next year.  I checked out his profile, found out he was living a few hours away, and put him back in that we’re-not-friends-but-I-don’t-hate-you imaginary box that is reserved for most folks you only see on Facebook and never interact with in real life.

Sunday I learned Peter had been in a fatal car accident.  He was 27.

Via our class Facebook page, I let everyone know that one of our very own had met an untimely death.  People from middle school and high school quickly filled up the post with condolences and surprise that such a nice guy had passed away so soon.  You never realize how fragile life is until someone your own age dies and the outpouring of support was endearing.

I found an article about the crash online and learned that, though Peter’s death was sad enough, the story was a lot more tragic than I had anticipated.

Peter was the passenger of a truck that hit a light pole.  The driver, his younger brother, survived.  But that’s not all.  It appears that both brothers had been drinking prior to the crash and now his younger brother will be charged with vehicular manslaughter.

I cannot imagine what this family is going through or the effect that this will have on Peter’s brother for the rest of his life.  Their mother must be devastated to lose one son to death and the other potentially to prison.  It’s such a horrible situation to be in and my thoughts are with the family at this time.

Unfortunately, not everyone who read the article felt the same way.

It’s easy to be cruel when you can hide behind your computer screen!

Comments flooded the online story that were hateful, disrespectful, and downright nasty:

“No sympathy for idiots.”

“[Their mother] should have taught them a little better.”

“It is tragic, but this was not an accident.”

“I don’t feel sorry[. T]he kids they are old [enough] to know to not drink and drive.”

“I have no problem with them killing themselves [to] decrease the surface population of some more idiots and waste of space[. M]y condolences to the surviving family members but Peter you ‘were’ just an a-hole.”

I could not believe my eyes as I scanned these kinds of comments and pictured Peter’s mother reading them, devastated and then to have these strangers call into account her parenting skills.  None of these commenters knew him or his family personally yet there were all compelled to weigh in the tragic loss.

A few of the commenters asked people to tone it down in order to pay respects to the grieving family.  They were called defenders of drunk drivers and told that they supported the behavior that led to the senseless tragedy.

Here’s the thing, everyone knows drunk driving is bad and we shouldn’t do it.  I’m not sure I could find many people who will be on the “Yes for Drunk Driving” bandwagon.  That’s just ridiculous.

But there is such a thing as compassion and this is something that is easy to forget about on the internet.  Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but common respect should never be disregarded in the name of getting one’s point across.

I’m glad that no one else was hurt in this accident, but at the end of the day, it was just that.  An accident.  I’m quite sure that the night’s plans did not include driving into a light pole, but poor choices were made and they had unfortunate consequences.

My heart goes out to Peter’s family at this time, but let this all be a lesson for each of us: don’t drink and drive.  And try to remember that what you say on the internet is read by actual humans with hearts and emotions.

Don’t forget, words can sting long after they are uttered.

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10 thoughts on “Tragedy And The Ugliness Of The Human Race

  1. Trying to be Conscious says:

    This is a really sad story, Jessica. The accident, of course, is a tragedy. But that some people are so self-righteous they can’t even feel compassion anymore is in a way, even sadder. I’m sure a lot of people didn’t comment but thought just like you. the ones who left those mean messages were just bullies (they were probably already bullies in high school too, weren’t they?)

    • Jessica says:

      I think you’re right, Cécile, and that there were others out there who refrained from commenting. I have never really found the point of getting into debates or arguments with complete strangers on the internet. For me, it’s easier to address my concerns on a blog than in the comment field of an online article or status update. But that’s just me.

  2. Fonz says:

    This is a lesson in character and cowardice. I venture none of the cowards who said such things would say such things to a family member. Whether its a genuine tragedy, or merely a tragic comedy like the last election, I’ve found that the internet does not represent real life. Cowards who hide insulated behind the anonymity of their keyboards write with hubris and complete disregard for the impact of their words. Or rather, they hope to make an impact. They write to shock, knowing they cannot be held accountable for their words. They’re impulsive, unthinking, and arrogant. In other words, the internet magnifies the asshole gene. The internet only represents humanity in the way a funhouse mirror in a cheap carnival reflects our own image – distorted, occasionally funny, and often horrific. But not real.

    Keep the faith.

    • Jessica says:

      Having long been disgusted with people’s online commentary, I knew you would have something to say about this, Mentosaurus. You’re right, I don’t think that these people would have the guts to say any of these things in person to the family that has been affected. However, it is not acceptable to spew such hatred for shock value. Great points and I’m definitely trying to keep the faith. (Was that an intended Bon Jovi reference or just a coincidence? 😉 )

  3. Emily January says:

    Oh my! Those comments are terrible, but I’m not surprised by the mother-blaming. People make mistakes. I think we sometimes forget that when we rush to judgment so quickly. What a sad story. My aunt was killed by a drunk driver when she was 18. It is one of the great tragedies of my grandma’s life, but she doesn’t hate.

    • Jessica says:

      I’m so sorry to hear about your aunt, Emily. It is always a tragedy to lose a family member, but–from what I hear–even worse when it’s your own child. I applaud your grandmother for not hating all who make the kind of mistakes that led to the death of her daughter. It takes an incredibly strong person to move past the pain and not be defined by it.

  4. Heidi says:

    I was one of the people who commented on this story in the paper. Yes, this accident may have been prevented, but how many of us have made stupid, stupid mistakes? These men made a split second decision that ended the life of one, and will change the life of the other forever. Whether it was drunk driving or not, it was tragic. This has bothered me for days afterward because of the ignorant rants people went on when I was trying to show compassion for this family. It hurts me to my core to think that a mother would have to read these types of comments after the loss of her sons. These young men did not get up in the morning thinking this would be the end of their days. They like many of us have done, made a serious, deadly error in judgement. Thank you for writing this Jessica. I know you know how much this has bothered me. The message should be Don’t drink and drive, not judgement of those involved.

    • Jessica says:

      Great points, Mom. I know how much this has been affecting you and how disappointed you were with those commenters. Judgment is less about other people and more about the person doing the judging. I’m sure those people had reasons for saying what they said, but if given the chance to say anything to Peter’s mother, I’m sure that their words would be of remorse and not hatred.

  5. Kathleen O'Brien says:

    Jess,

    That was a very powerful post. I agree with you 110%. And your poster above hit the nail on the head when she commented on how brave the cowards become when they’re hidden behind a computer. Of course most adults know right from wrong but when a tragedy like this occurs, it is not the time for sanctimonious finger pointing.

    My cousin raised two sons and a daughter and both of his boys, in separate horrific accidents, were killed on the road. One incident involved speed and the other involved alcohol and not ONCE did I ever bring my cousin’s parenting ability into play….I think people tend to forget how easily anyone can get swept into bad decision making: leaving a wedding reception, leaving a work meeting that was held at a bar, etc….Not a wise idea by any means but it happens. My cousin and his wife carry this pain every single day. So will the mother of your classmate. Maybe time would be better spent offering condolences to this woman, rather than hanging her out to dry. My heart goes out to her. Thank you for writing this.
    love, Auntie Kathy

    • Jessica says:

      Thanks, Auntie Kathy! My mentor (the Fonz) is quite right about “cowards hiding behind their computers.” This is an issue that has plagued him on more than one occasion and I have listened to him rant on the topic a few times now. It’s easy to stand on your soapbox when you are presented with a very limited number of facts (the article could not have been more than 200 words long) and have no one to hold you accountable to your judgments. It’s an unfortunate effect of the anonymity of the internet.

      How sad for your cousin, but I applaud you for not questioning his parenting skills. Mom brought up a great point the other day. She reminded me that every time (Every. Single. Time.) I go out with friends she tells me not to drink and drive, but if I choose to drink and drive, that is my decision to make. At 27, I am fully aware that decisions have consequnces and at the end of the day, I hold myself responsible for the choices I make, not my mother. Though I would be lying if I said her words and guidance didn’t help steer me in the right direction, they are just not the end all, be all of my existence.

Don't let me do all the blogging, join in the conversation. Otherwise, I just feel like I'm talking to myself...

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