Friday, June 22, 2018

Empathy, Crime, Punishment

I was drawn to writing crime fiction because, like a lot of my colleagues, I had experiences in my life that showed me crime isn’t as black and white as many would have you think. People don’t risk their lives, their freedom, their future, for nothing. Greed on it’s own is rarely enough to make a person risk it all. I write crime fiction because I hope my stories can engage the reader enough to make them look at things we are usually tempted to look away from. See the people beyond the crime, the motivations and parts of society we ignore.

I tell myself that if people read stories that elicit empathy, they’ll view the people we toss aside as criminals, addicts, and undesirables as people who deserve compassion and help.

But recently, every day I log onto my computer and I see pictures of crying children. I read stories about adults being told not to hold or comfort children who are terrified and alone. I read and see these things and I watch people actually build arguments as to why it’s justified. Why it’s okay to do this to these specific children, even though it wouldn’t be okay to do it to theirs. I see people conviently forget that we’ve done this before - we interned Japanese-Americans in dirty camps, we stole children from their parents during slavery, we did almost anything you can think of to the Native Americans when we arrived in this country and decided everything to the West of us was ours for the taking.

We didn’t own those mistakes, we didn’t learn from them. We heard the stories, saw the photos, and perhaps felt a tinge of empathy, a pull of the heartstring, and moved on. 

I don’t have a grand point to make. I’m feeling discouraged. I’m discouraged as a writer, as an American, and as a human. Of course, I can’t stop being a writer, an American, or a human, so the only choice is to figure out how best to be those things while fighting against this lack of empathy and compassion. 

No comments: