16 April 2007

Tearing Away the Veils of Maya

Today's mass murder at Virginia Tech hit most of us in the gut. I don't apologize for becoming inured to the daily reports of atrocities flowing from Iraq or the Darfur region of Sudan. We have six billion people on this planet and every second more die. It simply isn't possible to react to every tragedy or outrage that happens daily. I refuse to live life as Woody Allen described it when he said something like, "I can never enjoy a meal as long as I know that someone somewhere is starving."

Yet occasionally, events like Columbine, the Shuttle explosion, and today's massacre come across more vividly, like high-definition reality.

I suppose that media psychologists could explain this. It's not hard to imagine that some people seem so similar to our own friends and neighbors and children and some situations seem so similar to our own that the fact of tragedy seems more real. By contrast, everything we hear about remote regions of Africa or the Middle East often seems so foreign that even tales of tragedy seem abstract.

Hinduism teaches the concept of Maya, described as the illusion that reality is made up of separate selves and things. One point of enlightenment is to realize that this is an illusion. The apostle Paul wrote of believers as all one body. Statisticians see groups as having tendencies and know that, for instance, 2% of any group is going to die before the age of 50, even if they can't tell you which 2% it will be. Religion, psychiatry, and statistics have different ways of making the point that we share a fate and our individual experiences are, at some level, random variations of the human experience. It's not just that good and bad fortune is unpredictable - it is that, at some level, we share one another's fortune.

If there is any good to come out of tragedy's like today's it is simply this: it tears away the veils of Maya, reminding us that whatever we think makes us different is trivial and insubstantial in contrast with what makes us the same, .


David said...

Well done Ron. I don't think there's much to be learned from yesterday's killings even if we do find out what motivated the killer. Your ideas are as good as it needs to get.

Damon said...

There is little more annoying than hearing on every media outlet, "What can we learn from this tragic event?"

Tell you what I can learn, not to listen to their stupidity.

Ron Davison said...

Thanks for the kinds words.

Ron Davison said...

I hope you feel better now that you've gotten that out of your system. :) I suppose that the madmen learn as much from these events as the folks trying to prevent such madnes.

Adorable Girlfriend said...

David, I suggest there is always something to learn when one takes the lives of innocent bystanders. To say nothing of the event or learn nothing is to live blindly. Though it unclear what we'll learn, there must be something.

Nice post, Ron! Thanks for stopping by RoD. Hope you'll come again.

Norman said...

What can we learn?

That this tragic event was predictable.

Before you start throwing stones at me, please read, "The Gift of Fear" by Gavin De Becker.

A Grieving Hokie

Ron Davison said...

Thanks for stopping by. I don't disagree that we ought to learn something, but what is the bumper sticker? "Oh no. Not another learning experience."

I didn't remember that you were a Hokie. Sorry. I'll have to look for a synopsis of the "The Gift of Fear."

Peter said...

Try this please.

(If the link doesn't take you directly to the "hierarchy of alienness" click on it or scroll down.)

Ron Davison said...

Great hierarchy. My kids urged me to read Ender's Game and I'm glad they did. I thought it was great. (But I don't remember this degrees of different distinction.) Thanks.

Peter said...

Smart kids ;)

The hieararchy is in the second book, Speaker for the Dead. A little more heavy, but very good and very smart.

Anonymous said...


Missed you at Fudd's last night. I am a Hokie and had many classes in those Norris classrooms. In fact just a few months ago I was looking into out-of-state tuition costs for my oldest son (too high). It's strange, all these years away from Tech and I had never seen the campus on TV.


Ron Davison said...

Would have been great to see you and the gang Thursday. Business travel certainly interferes with a social life at times.
That would have been surreal to finally see your alma mater on TV - in this situation.