Shooting in Illinois response

February 25, 2008 | 4 comments

Just received the below inspiration from a deep-thinking reader in response to my recent blog, “Shooting in Illinois.” It will reach your heart…


Last week, I read your blog about the tragic shootings at Northern Illinois University in which you talked about such acts as “extreme selfishness.” Like you, I’ve been troubled by such random and thoughtless acts. This past weekend, I was at Virginia Tech to talk with a number of engineering students. The ways that they’ve reached out to each other and their care for others is almost palpable on the campus. Here’s something I wrote about the experience.


Giving unselfishly

Saturday morning on the campus of Virginia Tech was an overcast 35 degrees with a chilling wind blowing across the drill field toward Burris Hall. Less than a year earlier, the field was the scene of a tribute by thousands of Hokie students, faculty and administrators as they remembered their 32 friends who, a few days earlier, had been killed by a gunman, one of their own, in the most tragic college shooting ever.

But this Saturday the drill field was empty. A colleague and I parked our Ford Explorer nearby, several blocks from the place we’d soon be speaking to engineering students but only a few feet from the semi-circular memorial honoring VT’s slain students and faculty.

As we walked down the gently sloping path to memorial, I couldn’t help but reflect on how honorably the 32 Hokie Stones, as they’re called, marked the lives of such diverse people. And, if there’s a blessing in the tragedy, it may be that Hokie students and alums are more steadfast in their love for their school and what it stands for—a place to “invent the future” as they call it.

Sadly, only two weeks earlier, another tragic college shooting took place when a gunman killed five Huskie students on the campus of Northern Illinois University. Trying to make sense of the shootings at Virginia Tech and NIU is difficult, if not impossible. A friend of mine, writing in a blog a few days ago, called it “an extreme form of selfishness.” An apt description, that’s for sure.

But as my colleague and I stood at the memorial, numbed by the moment and the cold wind, I told her of my friend’s description of selfishness. She paused for a moment and said, “You know, it’s also an extreme form of loneliness. The killers in these cases were all alone with no friends to listen or talk to. Or at least that’s what they thought.”

It made me wonder if selfishness, when taken to an extreme, is really an inability to see how we fit together in a sort of inter-dependent universe, one in which no one stands alone? Could it be that selfishness is nothing more than a trick that obscures how we are really all part of a great big “whole?”

I realized that the healing of selfishness occurs when we “operationalize Love” by both knowing that God is Love and by living a life of loving one another through inclusion and compassion. Such living would not only help change loneliness into inclusiveness but selfishness into concern for others.

Our talk later that afternoon to 25 engineering students would be about preparing themselves for the world of work by choosing to make a difference in the world. We used an idea from the movie Pay It Forward in which a social studies teacher challenges his students to come up with an idea to change the world. One of them decides he will do something good for three other people. They cannot return the favor to him. but must “pay it forward” to three others who, in turn, must pay it forward to three more. (If you do the math, the number of people who are touched grows very quickly!)

As we talked about this idea with the engineering students they laughed about the fact that the size of the act wasn’t important, it was the act itself. One person told me later, “Good doesn’t come in sizes—good just is.”
The idea of paying it forward can make a huge difference in the lives of people who are lonely and hurting. Even the act of selflessly listening to others can break the spell of loneliness. Such acts of love help clear the dark of loneliness with the light of inclusion; they extinguish the trick of selfishness with the truth of unity and oneness.

We may never know the results of paying good forward as it’s almost impossible to know if doing so prevents bad acts—however minor or extreme—from happening. That’s the wonder of it. We may never know how we’ve made a difference. We just need to remember that we have.

4 thoughts on “Shooting in Illinois response”

  1. I’m glad this has been raised again, and the idea that loneliness may have been at the core of the issue for the gunman. I’m not fond at all of the word ‘selfish’ as its often used in a manipulative way – you don’t do what I want you to do, so I call you selfish. I also think it is judgmental and lacking in compassion. On the other hand there have been times when I’ve experienced emotional pain so intense that I have been selfish – all I’ve been able to do is think of myself and long for the pain to go. Perhaps in those moments I’ve unwittingly inflicted pain on others as well, but it wasn’t intentional, relieving my own pain was the issue. From my own experience, then, I’d like to offer the suggestion that the killer needed to relieve his own pain, and did not feel supported to do so in any other way than by acting it out, and inflicting pain on others. If this is true, then the community needs to take some responsibility for this event.

  2. It is not necessary to speculate on where evil comes from. It is necessary to know the Truth. It is necessary to know that 2×2=4. It is not necessary to know it is not 5,6,or 7.

  3. Hi anonymous,

    Your thought that “the community needs to take some responsibility” is similar to mine. And the more I thought about my experience at VT, the more I realized that the community I needed to start with was ME!

    You are so cool for writing that you may have reacted out of pain. Next time, you’ll probably take a higher path! Remember, you’re always loved.


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